Eagle County community leaders detail COVID-19 collaboration
Vail Health, Colorado Mountain Medical make 'game changer' move to run tests locally to avoid national lab backlog
EAGLE — In his introductory remarks for Thursday’s community conversation on COVID-19, Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll noted the entire nation has been dealing with the pandemic for five months now.
“It feels like five years,” Shroll deadpanned.
From schools to stores to offices to medical facilities, COVID-19 has affected virtually every aspect of normal life. That’s why this week’s discussion featured a diverse group of community leaders:
- Nadia Guerriero, chief operating officer for Beaver Creek Resort
- Kristen Pryor, general manager of The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa
- Dr. Brooks Bock, chief executive officer for Colorado Mountain Medical
- Phil Qualman, Eagle County Schools superintendent
- Julio Jimenez, Vail Daily Vail Vida Latina reporter
- Jeff Shroll, Eagle County manager
The panel was representative of the local collaborative approach regarding COVID-19.
“It was apparent to us and apparent to everyone in this room that government couldn’t address this thing on its own,” said Shroll. “But we can all try to mitigate the consequences.”
As the community looks ahead to its next COVID-19 benchmarks, Shroll said there are two major goals — to safely get kids back in school and to safely open for the 2020-21 ski season. In their remarks, the panel members talked about how their respective organizations will work to achieve those goals.
‘A game changer’
Dr. Bock delivered some welcome news during the session. He noted that nationwide there are problems with the turnaround time for COVID-19 tests. That’s been apparent in Eagle County, where it is taking up to 14 days to get test results.
“Recently we made a decision, Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical together, to increase our capacity locally of not only performing the tests but also running the tests locally,” said Dr. Bock. “The difficulty has been we have had to send out the tests to national laboratories.”
Those national laboratories have been overwhelmed as COVID-19 cases mount throughout the United States, which has caused the delay in getting back results in a timely manner, Dr. Bock said. When Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical can expand services to include test analysis, the turnaround time should drop to around 48 hours.
Dr. Bock noted that while the change is coming, it is still a few weeks away. In the meantime, he stressed that anyone who is seriously ill can get a rapid result COVID-19 test. “Today we have the capability to do quick turnaround tests. We can get the results with immediacy,” he noted. “But we have a limited number of those tests.”
Shroll noted that the testing turnaround time is the biggest breakdown in the local COVID-19 response. With timelier test result data, Shroll noted local public health officials could better determine the source of infections and target problem areas.
“The fact that Vail Health will do our own testing is a game changer,” said Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney, who served as the moderator for the event.
Along with sharing his news about the testing change, Dr. Bock noted that the community will soon enter influenza season “It comes every fall and it is very predictable,” he said. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Bock said it is vitally important that people get a flu vaccine this year.
He also stressed that maintaining good health is the best way that individuals can combat COVID-19. That means keeping current with preventative measures and managing chronic disease. “We have made the decision that the well’er we are as a community, the more likely we can successfully combat COVID.”
Back to school
This week, Eagle County Schools released its plan for the 2020-21 school year. Qualman outlined the proposals for the school district’s 6,500 local students and 900 employees.
The ultimate goal, he noted, was to offer in-person instruction. “We do our best work when we have kids in front of us,” Qualman said. “Nobody wants them in school more than we do.”
This week, the school district pushed back its start date from Aug. 18 to Aug. 25 noting that teachers needed more time to implement plans for both in-person and remote instruction. Additionally, the county’s key performance indicator is in the “concerned” range, Qualman said.
“We hope we don’t stay in that red zone,” he said. “We need to bring the needle down. The school district has about a month to accomplish that goal.
Qualman advised that if people believe opening school is a priority, they need to take the county’s five commitments of containment seriously.
“We have become pretty lax through the summer as we became accustomed to living in a pandemic,” he said.
Hitting the slopes
With the county still recovering from the initial impact of shutting down the 2019-20 ski season a month early, community leaders said it is economically vital to figure out how to safely plan for the 2020-21 season.
Guerriero noted Vail Resorts opened up its Eagle County mountains on July 1 with new safety protocols in place. “We are not only operating for the summer… but we are also getting ready for the winter,” she said.
Those preparations include honing in on workable safety protocols and getting maintenance crews back to work.
“We are focused greatly on the health and safety of our employees as well as our guests,” she said.
Kristen Pryor, general manager of The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa, echoed that sentiment.
“Not everyone realizes that we (representatives of the local lodging industry and public health officials) talk weekly. We are looking at the statistics, the data, weekly,” Pryor said.
In collaboration with Eagle County, she said local lodges are enforcing the county’s mask order and other public safety provisions. She added that tent cards have been placed in local rooms that urge guests to “Come well. Stay Well. Leave Well.”
“Tourists are a vital part of our economy,” Pryor noted. “If they come to our community and don’t have a great experience, they may not come back. And when we need them, they may not be here.”
Don’t have the luxury
Julio Garcia Jimenez, a reporter for the Vail Daily who produces Vail Vida Latina, addressed issues the local Latino community is facing with COVID-19. He noted there has been a large increase in positive cases in that community.
“The ability to stay home is a luxury that the local Latino population may not have,” Garcia Jimenez said.
Additionally, service industry Latino workers are being hit harder with financial issues related to COVID-19 and they may not be connected to local resources that can provide help.
“Access to information is important as we move forward,” said Garcia Jimenz. The Vail Daily’s Friday Spanish section is a start, he said.
“If one part of our community isn’t well informed, if one part of our community is left out … that is going to make it difficult for the entire community to move forward,” Garcia Jimenz said.
“We are trying our best to collaborate more and communicate better,” noted McQueeney. She urged all county residents and visitors to do the same.
“We all have a part to play. Do what you can and be kind and we will all get through this together,” McQueeney said.
The entire Community Conversation session can be viewed at https://reflect-vod-eaglecounty.cablecast.tv/CablecastPublicSite/show/5252?channel=1