Local public health officials say the response to COVID-19 is now shifting gears. One of the key strategies is called social distancing. KDNK’s Lucas Turner explains why this strategy is important to understand, and how it reduces the spread of the virus.
Last week officials from Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle Counties released a public health order banning all gatherings of 50 people or more, regardless of the event location, or type of event. The order is enforceable by law and violators could face a class 1 misdemeanor for a violation. But it had some wondering, why so drastic?
Garfield County’s Public information officer Carrie Godes explains the reasoning behind the measure.
GODES: We have found through all the studies and through what other states and countries are going through at this time, that the only way we can protect our medical facilities, providers, and healthcare workers is by taking a very aggressive stance.
While the public order explicitly bans large gatherings, that’s not the end of it.
It also strongly encourages social distancing. In other words, minimizing face-to-face or up-close contact with others in whatever way possible. This is why events are being canceled, restaurants are moving to curbside pickup, school districts from Aspen to Parachute have announced closures, and people are being encouraged to work from home if possible.
KAREN KOENEMANN: Because there is no anti-viral or vaccine for COVID-19, we have to implement non-pharmaceutical interventions. That’s what this social distancing and community mitigation is wrapping around.
Karen Koenemann is Pitkin County's Public Health director. She says that it is no longer possible to prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19, so the goal is to keep the number of sick people from exploding, as to not overwhelm local hospitals. Epidemiologists call this “flattening the curve.”
KOENEMANN: Think back to sixth grade when we’re learning about the y and the x-axis. If you think about the y-axis that’s the number of cases. If you think about the x-axis that’s the time. And when we look at epidemiological curves, we can see that if there’s an explosion of the number of cases in a short amount of time, you’re gonna have a steeper curve. We want to flatten out that curve. That’s why you’re seeing this shift in how we doing testing in our community, as well as what you’re seeing with the public health order.
Koenemann says people need to get away from focusing on the number of positive cases in their community since it is now clear that community transmission is taking place, and due to low testing rates, that means the number of people infected with the virus is much higher than what is being reported.
KOENEMANN: “We actually don’t have the data that shows community spread. But knowing what we know about how COVID-19 has spread in other communities, we are moving into a different response, not having the data, but knowing that it’s happening.”
So the virus is spreading, the number of cases is higher than you think, and the best response we have at this time is to practice social distancing strategies.
Karen Koenemann says this is a community-wide effort. Businesses should consider closing or allow their employees to work from home when possible. Instead of going out to eat, consider takeout. And if you are feeling sick, or you think you might have been exposed to COVID-19, stay home.
KOENEMANN: I just wanna reiterate this is a community level response. Everybody in this community has a role to play. I want the community to feel empowered, that they can not be fear-based, not be worrying, and really think about what they can do, themselves and their family, to prevent this spike in the epi curve.
We’ll have more on strategies for social distancing in future newscasts. We’ll also be discussing the healthcare system capacity in our local area, to emphasize the importance of reducing the spread of the virus.
We’d like to know how you’re handling in the community-wide effort. Are your employees working from home? Have you canceled events or moved them to live streams? And what about helping your fellow community members? Maybe you’d just like to share a word of encouragement or ask a question.
Whatever you have to say, we want to hear.
To give us your thoughts, call 963-0139 and ask for the news director’s voicemail. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org