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Eagle County COVID-19 communications can be a navigational challenge

It's not the absence, but rather the abundance, of information that sometimes causes confusion

Eagle County's COVID-19 risk meter remains in the red this week.
Special to the Daily

EAGLE — Organizational communication issues usually revolve around how there isn’t enough information available. That’s definitely not the issue with Eagle County’s COVID-19 messaging.

While there has been some confusion expressed in the community about the county’s COVID-19 messaging, it’s more of a navigation problem than a communication issue.

“People may be having tough finding what they need, but everyone is looking for something different,” said Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron. “It is really easy to help people in a conversation. My first questions to people are ‘What do you want to learn? What do you want to accomplish? It’s really easy to talk to people about it, but it’s difficult to write about it.”

And it is especially difficult to produce verbiage for the masses regarding ever-evolving, local COVID-19 information and resources. Some people want raw data about case numbers and disease spread. Others want information about what those statistics mean for daily life. Both are available at ecemergency.org.

“Eagle County has two different things that work together. The first is the dashboard, which is just information. It’s numbers and graphs about what the disease looks like in the community,” Barron said. “The dashboard works together with the key performance indicators page. What that page does is it takes our local data and also takes state and national data and also the conversations that public health and medical teams are having with patients and how they contracted the disease and who they were in contact with and the activities they were engaged in. It then puts all those things together to define a risk level. The key performance indicator is an interpretation of all the numbers.”

In simplest terms, the dashboard tells residents what’s happening and the key performance indicators tell them what to do.

Equipped with these two pieces of information, local residents can gain a comprehensive understanding of the local COVID-19 situation. “I would also encourage people to look at the Colorado data page,” Barron said.

But in addition to these primary three sources, there’s other communication coming from Eagle County about COVID-19.

Transition trail map

The transition trail map — a county invention that employed ubiquitous ski trail images to describe stages of COVID-19 precautions — was the primary communications tool as the county transitioned from stay-at-home orders in place during March through safer-at-home orders in May and finally the longer-term — black diamond — COVID-19 orders now in place.

Eagle County obtained a variance in June to allow movement to the black diamond phase and remains in that stage.

“The trail map was intended to show the community the steps we needed to take to progress,” explained Eagle County Communications Director Kris Widlak. “We took those steps and now we are in an amended black diamond phase.”

Today, the transition trail map is less relevant than it was in late spring.

“I don’t think it has outlived its usefulness, but it definitely was something from two months ago,” said Barron. “As a tool, the transition trail map is a nice little one-pager.”

For example, the amended trail map outlines the provisions of the black diamond phase, which currently includes limitations of 10 people for private gatherings, 100 people for indoor public gatherings and 175 people for outdoor public gatherings. As noted on the trail map verbiage, those numbers reflect an amendment that happened on July 17.

“We were told by the state that our disease trends were outside of the limits of our approved (amended black diamond) variance,” Widlak said. “We had to produce a mitigation plan with the goal of bringing the disease trends down within two weeks.

This week, the county released its mitigation plan to continue the black diamond phase variance. The crowd size rules comprise the main feature of the mitigation.

Public health orders

The official Eagle County public health orders are the least user-friendly COVID-19 documents.

“The public health order is the actual law, and it isn’t the easiest way to understand what it means,” Barron said.

The public health orders set the local law and detail penalties for people who disregard the rules. Through official orders, Eagle County legally sets its policies for issues such as face mask requirements and business opening rules. Violation of a public health order is a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and up to 18 months jail time.

However, as Barron noted, in the majority of cases when a violation is reported, a law officer is sent to the scene to gather information and educate violators.

“If people see a violation of the public health order, it should be reported to the Vail Dispatch Center non-emergency line. They have dispatched hundreds of calls, ” Barron said. That number is 970-479-2201.

“Whoever witnesses the violation is the best person to report it,” Barron said. “Almost always, a written violation isn’t necessary but the important thing for people to know is there is an enforcement process and we do take it seriously.”

Feeling sick?

Barron said medical information at ecemergency.org is probably the most vital communications tool on the site.

“I think it is really important for people who are sick, or think they are and don’t know what to do, to know that we do have an information page,” Barron said.

Under the heading “Information for Individuals” there are several links that include everything from what to do if you are feeling sick to testing information to mental health resources.

If the county’s information page fails to address someone’s questions, there is a COVID-19 question phone line. By dialing 970-328-9750, callers can speak to someone directly. Queries can also go to covidquestions@eaglecounty.us.

Facebook community resources include One Valley Voice and Mi Salud, Mi Charco pages. Widlak also noted there is a Spanish translation option on ecemergency.org.

And finally, anyone who visits the county’s website has the option to go directly to the “COVID-19 Concierge” that appears on the home page in a pop-up window.


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