Harmon: Community goals rely on slowing COVID-19 spread
Many leaders in the community are speaking with a common message these days about COVID-19. Whether during the community conversation hosted by Eagle County or Chris Romer’s recent column, “The reality of right now,” that message is we must act together to slow the spread of COVID-19 in order for us to achieve community goals that will benefit all of us.
Those goals include getting schools open for in-person education, keeping our economy open and workforce employed, protecting those who are at greater risk of exposure or developing severe disease, and opening our ski resorts this winter.
Regardless of your age, perspective on the prevention measures, or your political affiliation, the community goals reflect what is important about living here in Eagle County. lf we do five things consistently, we can help decrease the disruption of COVID-19 to better achieve our community goals, which is a win for all of us:
- Keep 6 feet of distance when gathering with friends and non-household members
- Wash your hands often
- Cover your face in public, especially when indoors
- Stay home when you are sick
- Get tested if you have symptoms
Yes, these are the same five commitments of containment that we have been vocalizing since late April. These commitments set the foundation for everyone, yet insights from our case investigations can further highlight environments or actions where we can do better.
These settings account for the most significant amount of spread. It’s important to keep in mind that even as you gather the risk for exposure to COVID-19 is pretty high right now. We have some specific recommendations to help us all do better in this area:
- Socialize responsibly. Decrease the number of people in social gatherings. Keep groups to less than 10 people.
- Keep your distance. Yes this may feel awkward with friends and family, but distance is a great prevention measure.
- Don’t be shy to wear a mask. Be bold and make a statement. If you can’t ensure the distance or you’re in indoor public settings, just wear it.
- Last one …. stay home when you’re sick. Don’t worry about missing the party. Instead, play the sympathy card and take one for the community.
Protections in the workplace
Implementing protocols and policies within the work environment are the responsibility for every business owner and employer. So many of our local employers are doing a fantastic job minimizing the risks of COVID-19. However, we have three key recommendations that can protect your staff and your business.
- Develop protocols and communicate them regularly. They should address the social distancing requirements of the Eagle County Public Health Order, like wearing masks indoors when around coworkers or customers, self-screening for symptoms before work, and customer expectations.
- Carpooling or employee transportation is a significant issue due to the close proximity in a confined space, for a prolonged period. To limit exposures during transport, employees must self-screen for symptoms and should not go to work if sick; limit occupancy of the vehicle to 50% and maximize distance between all passengers; masks must be worn and ventilation increased during the trip; passengers should use hand sanitizer upon entering and exiting the vehicle; and vehicles should have high-touch surfaces cleaned and disinfected daily.
- Colorado has passed the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, which requires paid leave for up to 80 hours for employees if they are impacted by COVID-19. It is still surprising how few people are aware of this wage protection so families won’t have to make the tough decision between staying home when you’re sick or paying for rent and groceries. Employers should familiarize themselves with the requirements and communicate this to all employees.
A large number of new cases are among people on the frontlines of our hospitality and construction industries, including landscaping. The protocols outlined above and vigilant use of masks will help reduce exposures. For employees in these industries, we have two recommendations for you:
- Be aware of your paid leave protections. Take time now to talk to your employer about how to access this time, making it easier to implement if and when the time comes.
- Above all else, stay home when you are sick. Take advantage of those paid leave benefits, isolate within your house, and wear a mask anytime that you are around household members.
Child care and summer camps
Our child care centers, summer camps and schools are doing a great job implementing strong protocols to help reduce exposures in these settings. That said, when disease incidence was low, these settings were not impacted, but as disease incidence has increased lately, it has become more common that a teacher or child has either been exposed or confirmed with COVID-19. Reducing the case incidence will help limit disruptions as we head into fall. Here are some specific recommendations on how they can help:
- Screen your child for symptoms every day before they go to care, camp, or school. If they have any illness keep them home.
- In the event your child gets COVID-19 or is exposed, it is critically important that you collaborate with public health staff to provide information that will help decrease the spread to other people. Without this information, the disruption for a school, teachers, and other students will likely be much greater.
Our window to turn this around is small. Change is hard …I get it. Yet if we want to achieve any of the community goals as presented above, it’s time we rally and take ownership of our actions that can help protect our schools, our economy, and our 2020/21 ski season.
Heath Harmon is the director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment.