The Ripple Effects of COVID-19 at 10,152′
The Sunday morning church bells at Annunciation Church were silent in Leadville Today, symbolically ringing in a new normal in America’s highest city. Bishop Michael Sheridan ordered all Masses at Holy Family Parish tentatively canceled. Nor were there any joyful voices raised in prayer down at the Cornerstone Church (117 E. 6th Street) as pastoral leaders determined that “based on recommendations from healthcare professionals we are going to cancel Sunday services in all 4 campuses through March (15, 22, 29).” Welcome to new life at 10,152 feet.
On Friday-the-13th of March, the Lake County Public Health (LCPH) Agency issued an order prohibiting large gatherings and events of more than 50 people. The order was effective immediately. And so was the ripple effect for local businesses. By Saturday morning, Ski Cooper announced the cancellation of their Annual Easter Egg Hunt; by nightfall, there was a complete shut-down of ALL Colorado ski resorts. According to Cooper’s GM Dan Torsell: “At the direction of the Governor’s Office and in concert with all other Colorado Ski Resorts, Ski Cooper will be closed beginning tomorrow, Sunday, March 15 for an initial period ending Sunday, March 22.”
An Avalanche of News
While the irony of the one-year mark for Lake County’s historic 2019 avalanche events did not go unnoticed last week, it was the onslaught of COVID-19 cancelations and closures that came in like a series of snow slides, capturing the attention of newsrooms around the world, including this one.
Unfortunately by Friday morning, it was clear that things were not going to go as planned for the long-awaited Town Hall Meeting. Promises from local officials and public health leaders to address specific questions concerning their Pandemic Plan had been walked back. By 2 p.m. the entire virtual plan had been scrapped, leaving thoughtfully prepared questions, like those from Leadville resident/wife/mom Patti Nagel unanswered.
Instead, a pre-recorded video with the LCPH Director and Lake County’s Chief Medical Officer was posted on the recently created Lake County COVID-19 Facebook Page, discussing basic preventive measures and hygiene. For many, the message fell short.
Fortunately. the agency’s March 15 press release takes on a more serious tone now that official orders and closures are firmly in place. This morning, the City of Leadville also announced that City Hall is officially closed through March 22. Parkville Water District also has closed its office on Highway 24, next to Pizza Hut, but customers can still pay their bills online or by phone at 719-486-1449.
School Daze: Home Sweet Home
Last Friday’s Town Hall meeting wasn’t the only thing canceled when it came to education last week. Although the decision to hold a public meeting about the contagious disease in a school cafeteria created enough blowback to eventually cancel that gathering, another decision not to cancel the musical performance at West Park Elementary School (per the ok from Public Health) raised eyebrows and sharp criticism from parents and some community members.
Twenty-four hours later, school district officials announced that “After thoughtful consideration, LCSD (Lake County School District) has decided to close schools through March 27 as a precautionary public health measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our schools will be closed from Monday, March 16 – Friday, March 27. All school-related activities and events scheduled during the closure will be canceled.”
Colorado Mountain College (CMC) announced on Thursday that students’ spring break had been extended through March 20. After that date, CMC will hold credit classes via distance learning. All noncredit classes have been canceled for the duration. From March 12 to April 12, all CMC campuses will be closed to members of the public. Read the full CMC Press Release.
The Truth About The Plan
So, why? Why won’t Lake County Public Health officials release their Pandemic Plan? There is a plan in place, and Leadville Today knows it because of the Emergency Exercise conducted on June 6, 2017. So why won’t public officials come forward and share the plan about how they plan to “provide lifesaving medication to the community in the event of a real-world emergency that involves an outbreak?”
Because simply put, the program established nearly three years ago is no longer whole. The good news is it’s fixable. So here are the facts in their most basic terms, along with a very special Plan B for Public Health in Leadville Today.
One of the key success components for any solid Pandemic Plan is to reduce the spread of disease through isolation methods and quarantine practices. And LCPH’s original 2017 plan had all of that in place. In a recent interview with Lake County’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lisa Zwerdliner breaks down the details as follows, utilizing Lake County’s three primary medical facility locations to establish a tiered structure in the event of a pandemic:
- Point One (yellow star) – LCPH Agency, which at the time of the original plan (2016-17) was located in the Lake County Courthouse Annex building on East 5th Street. This would be considered the first point of contact for the least vulnerable, assessed through the Center for Disease Control (CDC) parameters of contact, symptoms, etc.. Initial information and analysis is administered at Point One. Baseline documentation and services.
- Point Two (orange star) – Rocky Mountain Family Practice would be considered the location where more moderate cases would be directed in case further testing need to be administered. At each checkpoint, there are credentialed medical personnel on staff to deal with the patients at different stage levels.
- Point Three (red star) – St. Vincent Hospital would be handling the most urgent cases, prepared to take in critical cases as well as transport them by ambulance or Flight-for-Life to a more advanced medical facility, if necessary.
So yes, as stated in yesterday’s press release by LCPH Director Colleen Nielsen, they completed a successful pandemic emergency exercise. And that’s why LT asked about the exercise in its initial media inquiry in late February. LT knew the plan existed and that it was a good plan . . . for 2017.
Unfortunately, since then two major variables have changed which appear to have officials scrambling in the shadows instead of shedding some light on the truth. This is no time to be hiding the facts when Leadville has proven itself to be a forgiving community that will back up and respect the hard work of friends and neighbors, especially when it comes to emergency and medical personal. But no more smoke and mirrors. Here are the issues.
Issue #1: The public health offices have moved since the original plan. In 2019, under the fanfare of wanting to establish a new health campus for Lake County, Point One in the Pandemic Plan moved. It was now just about as close as it could possibly be to Point Three which was to address the most critical cases. Common sense dictates establishing a reasonable distance between these three medical triage points, especially when dealing with a contagious disease. Simply put, a new location for Point One needs to be identified for the Pandemic Plan. Suggestion: the 6th Street Gym. This old, solid standby might not be as appealing as Lake County’s latest event venue or shiny new school, but it’s a county-owned facility, a building often identified as a distribution point during emergency exercises. The gym would replace Point One, re-establishing a safe distance from the other points, and one that is on the east side of town, away from possible emergency congestion from Points Two and Three.
Issue #2: The 3+-year-old plan also calls for the most critical patients to be transported by air from St. Vincent Hospital (SVH). That is no longer an option. In fact, no patient has been flown out of the Leadville hospital for more than a year, since the medical facility began its construction project. Since then, patients have been transported by ambulance from SVH up to the Leadville airport where a medical helicopter picks up the patient from an FAA-approved landing area which has been plowed and maintained by airport staff under the direction of Lake County Public Works.
To Be Continued
In the end, this community needs to get real about what is happening; and not just in dealing with coronavirus. Why is a town that hosts thousands of racers each summer challenged to re-route its race against coronavirus by simply relocating its medical “aid-stations?” Or if there is another plan in place, one that is not changing with every press release, now is the time to share it.
The truth is when the coronavirus storm finally passes – and it eventually will – all of the local leaders and officials will have to stand in the truth of public-opinion-and-election-polls. Did they do the right thing? Did they speak up and voice their concerns when it may not have been popular?
But perhaps the bigger truth in Leadville Today is that this small mountain community is more prepared than most when it comes to taking on a challenge and crossing that glorious finish line with friends and family in tow. So dig deep, Leadville! And no cry babies, because this victory is for the true #LeadvilleFamily, the people who live here.
Meanwhile, LT remains committed to pushing for the answers, in getting to the truth. And that’s not easy to do in a small town where everyone seems to be your neighbor or kid’s friend, but Leadville’s immediate future depends on it. That kind of dedication and resources also takes money. So here’s an opportunity to support independent news in Leadville Today by making a financial contribution of any amount. Thank You for your continued support.
Until then, stay well, and as always please feel free to reach out to Leadville Today via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on any of LT’s social media platforms. You are invited to share your opinions, suggestions and comments, as always in a thoughtful, respectful manner.
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