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Thoughts from the Front Lines

By Andrea Carlstrom

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought painful, yet valuable life lessons for Chaffee County, the U.S. and our world. Although it is likely that the pandemic will linger for some time and will most likely bring new challenges and lessons, I consider it prudent to share what I have experienced and learned thus far.

In my opinion, our county’s solid leadership and collaborative efforts have been the key contributors to weakening COVID-19’s impact on our personal and professional lives. For nearly six months, Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) has been working in tandem with our county and municipal leaders, as well as many entities and individuals with expertise in economic recovery, human services, education, healthcare and emergency response to thoughtfully and carefully protect our county’s health, wellness and economy.

CCPH has built a sustainable COVID-19 team, which includes not only public health nurses, but contact tracers, communications, data coordination, education and outreach. Constructing a powerhouse has allowed us to effectively ramp up our services, including community testing for the general public. Testing is by appointment only and individuals need to meet the criteria. The clinics are free and take place weekly in Salida and Buena Vista.

Along the way, ongoing communication has been a lifeline for many of us. CCPH originally provided daily updates via Facebook Live and hosted weekly town halls with local leaders. We also created community information boards, developed a COVID-19 Facebook page and updated the county’s website with helpful information and tools. Over time we transitioned from daily situational awareness reports to sending reports twice a week. The reports have included current case numbers, safety checklists, prevention strategies and state and county public health orders. Our newest tool is the Chaffee County COVID-19 Dashboard, which provides real-time updates on community cases. It’s graphically driven and includes a breakdown by location, gender, age, hospitalizations, symptomatic versus asymptomatic, type of spread and recovery rates.


Our communications have also included press releases and public service announcements, as well as interviews with our local radio stations and newspapers. Our local media has worked diligently to stay on top of a daunting situation, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

I have participated in numerous workgroups and committees to make sure our rural voice is heard in the decision-making process. It does seem as though the state is open to hearing from us and taking our recommendations to heart. I am also on the board of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, which has also been an important advocate for local public health. There are regular meetings with various state leaders, including the governor’s office. I must admit that we have been caught off guard a few times by the governor’s announcements. There have been many times when our general community is being informed about a change at the same time local public health agencies are.

As most of you are aware, we are currently under an executive order to wear a medical or non-medical face covering indoors. This mandate includes publicly or privately owned, managed or operated, enclosed indoor areas that are accessible to the public, places of employment and entities that provide services. This does not apply to a person’s residence, a room in a motel or hotel or a residential room for students at an educational facility.

Although this order has not been well received or followed by all, wearing masks/cloth face coverings is still one of the key ways to reduce transmission of the virus to someone else. In addition, keeping at least a six-foot distance from one another whenever possible is still an important measure that needs to be taken. We continue to also ask our community to be vigilant about hand washing, staying home when sick and getting tested should symptoms develop.

We thank you for the sacrifices you have made so far to slow the spread of the virus. We are also grateful for the consistent support and dedication from our county’s leaders, including county commissioners and administrators, municipality elected officials and management, our local economic development corporation, school districts, behavioral health agencies, emergency medical service providers and those who provide human services. In particular, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to the CCPH COVID-19 team that has worked tirelessly to pull off a comprehensive pandemic response and continues to do so.

We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we do know that we are not alone. We are all in this together. We have never done this before, and we are writing the playbook on how to get through a pandemic. We painfully realize that pandemics are exhausting, stressful and scary. We are being challenged to combat our fears while exhibiting personal accountability and responsibility. It has been a difficult yet valuable experience to observe our community’s strength and resiliency during a very uncertain time. So, keep on shining, Chaffee County!

Andrea Carlstrom is the Chaffee County Public Health Director and COVID-10 Incident Commander.

The Last Word is sponsored by Judith and Ed Kinzie.