As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the state, Lake County officials and businesses are preparing for the impact COVID-19 will have on the region.
Since the first case in the state was confirmed in Summit County on March 5, the virus has spread at a steady rate. As of 4 p.m. on Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had reported 160 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Colorado, none of which were in Lake County.
On March 10, Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency in an effort to curtail the spread of novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease brought on by the virus.
On Monday, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) adopted an emergency resolution declaring a local disaster emergency for the county to be in effect for the next seven days. The BOCC will re-evaluate this declaration on Friday at 1 p.m.
The threshold for complete closure of county and city facilities is the first positive case of COVID-19 in Lake County. Regardless, county and city officials are taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and minimize its impact on employees and the general public.
At this point, Lake County Office of Emergency Management’s (LCOEM) main goals are education and outreach to the community, the office’s director Cailee Hamm said.
“We are doing our best to get timely, accurate, consistent information to the community,” Hamm told the Herald.
A variety of challenges have made keeping the public informed with credible and up-to-date information about preventing the spread of the virus difficult, she said.
Part of the challenge in quickly providing information stems from the fact that the county is relying on information disseminated from the state level. This often means that LCOEM and Lake County Public Health Agency (LCPHA) are made aware of information at the same time as the general public, LCPHA Director Colleen Nielsen said.
According to Nielsen, much of the information made available by the state is not published in Spanish, adding to the lag time in presenting the information to the community as a result of needing to translate the materials.
The outreach and education regarding how to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, including social distancing, limiting public contact if sick, washing hands regularly, and covering coughs and sneezes, has not changed much, Nielsen said. She also acknowledged that is can be frustrating to not see updated information in respect to medications or vaccines available to prevent the disease.
“We still know that is the most effective way to prevent this spread,” Nielsen said. “That’s hard. People want more, and they want a medicine, and they want a vaccine, and currently neither of those are available.”
As soon as the county became aware of the rapidly increasing pace of the situation, LCOEM developed a response team with local and regional partners in order to take advantage of the time before the first positive case, Hamm said.
LCPHA and LCOEM have been collaborating with a variety of local, regional, state, and federal entities to prepare for the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county.
“Things that would normally take us a week to work through, we’re now working through on a day-to-day basis,” Nielsen told the Herald.
Over 70 percent of Lake County’s population commutes to neighboring counties with confirmed positive cases, presenting a unique challenge to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
According to Nielsen, Colorado has been aggressive in its response. Other states will likely follow, she said, in an attempt to develop a standardized response to curtail the spread of the virus.
The anticipation of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Lake County has impacted local organizations and businesses, prompting a large number of cancellations and closures.
Tuesday, a statewide order closing all food service businesses, including restaurants, coffee shops, bars and breweries, as well as movie theaters, casinos and gyms, went into effect. Food service businesses are allowed to provide pick-up and delivery services, though dining areas are to remain closed to minimize close interaction with people.
At Treeline Kitchen, Christine Street, co-owner and operator of the restaurant, addressed her employees Friday afternoon to inform them about the spread of the virus and what steps the business is taking to prepare for the impacts COVID-19 is likely to have on them.
Treeline Kitchen is requiring sick employees to stay home from work, and as a result of the closure, the restaurant will transition to carryout and delivery orders only, Street said.
As of two weeks ago, Treeline Kitchen began to gather materials in preparation for shortages, Street said. Treeline stocked up on dry goods, such as napkins and paper towels, as well as food supplies, including rice and beans.
Treeline Kitchen will provide employees with a meal a day provided they are able to continue using their kitchen. If the need arises and the restaurant can still operate, Treeline Kitchen aims to offer meal distribution. Bagged lunches, meal deliveries, and a variety of other options are all on the table, Street said.
Colorado’s declaration of a state of emergency includes relief funding for food service employees who are required to miss work as a result of illness.
In the absence of a state-recommended step-by-step plan, Lake County has been reviewing and preparing to implement pre-existing plans, including their pandemic plan and quarantine and isolation plans.
These plans serve less as specific instructions for how to address a situation and work more as broad strategies for county entities to adopt in response to a pandemic like COVID-19. As such, they act as protocols LCPHA and LCOEM can act on rather than the public using them for guidance, Nielsen said.
Nielsen recommended that the public refer to ready.gov for preparation on the personal level and stressed the importance of paying attention to and maintaining mental health throughout this period. She encouraged people to maintain their social connections using alternatives like digital communication.
In preparation for a vaccine or medication becoming available to prevent COVID-19, the county is reviewing their point of dispensing plan, a specific protocol adopted by the county with the goal to vaccinate every resident within 12 hours.
As far as funding from the state’s emergency declaration, there is no clear plan for reimbursement to affected counties, though it presents opportunities for funding and additional resources, Hamm said.
Currently, the county is striving to accurately document the impact COVID-19 preparation has had on the region in order to quickly absorb support offered by the state when it becomes available, Hamm said.
“It’s important now to do all these things before we get a positive case,” Nielsen said.