Harmon: Connected on our path forward
Our community has succeeded in leading the nation in managing COVID-19, not because we have more or better guidelines, but because our community has largely respected these guidelines.
As the weather warms, we are eager to get outside and reconnect with our friends and nature. And although we have rolled back some restrictions, it is important to remember this is not a zero-risk environment. The virus that causes COVID-19 is still present in our community. However, we know more about this virus than we did even a few short months ago.
Personal responsibility is now more important than ever to protect others. Maintaining your distance from others is required, as is frequent hand washing. When you walk into a business or store, wear a face covering. And of course, staying home when you’re sick and get tested as soon as possible are essential. These are the five commitments of containment to protect your family, friends, and neighbors
This is an opportunity to approach each other with kindness. Being mindful of your distance to others and wearing face coverings when entering stores is both expected and respectful. Please keep in mind that your actions are just as important to protecting others as they are to protecting yourself — for example, my mask protects you and your mask protects me.
Here’s more guidance for face coverings:
- More than a moment: The spread of COVID-19 is most likely to occur when in close contact with others for periods of time approaching 10 minutes or longer, not from momentary circumstances such as walking past others or dropping off goods.
- Mask up when close: When 6 feet of distance can’t be maintained for a prolonged period of time, again, 10 minutes or longer, a face covering is required.
- Mask up in public: When you are going into a store or a business, a face covering is strongly encouraged.
- Distance is better than masks: Masks are not required when walking in your neighborhood, or on trails, when you can adequately maintain 6 feet of distance from others.
- Mask up for others: For those who are not afraid of COVID-19 or don’t want to wear a mask, remember the mask protects others, not yourself.
During the past six weeks, we have had practice with implementing the social distancing requirements. And although we are feeling confident that we can successfully implement each of them on an individual level, as a community we are just getting an opportunity to put this practice into motion with businesses that are newly reopening.
Many businesses are now taking their first steps to determine if they can open and how to do it safely. Owners and employers are actively building models of what social distancing looks like in their space and the precautions necessary to protect their employees and customers. We’ll need to practice our social distancing in these new environments and it should be expected that it will take a little time to dial this in.
As a customer, review the social distancing protocol of your favorite businesses before you arrive so you understand what the requirements are. In addition, wear a face covering when you enter stores or a business as a respectful gesture to protect the employees and other customers.
We are hearing from you, a lot. Comments range from “We want our economy back” to “we must do this safely” to “why are you putting our health at risk?” We want you to know that we hear you and will continue to listen.
For now, our cautious step forward is balancing numerous needs of our community, including the financial needs for Eagle County families, the behavioral health needs of our neighbors, and the prevention of a COVID-19 resurgence. A vaccine is as many as 18 months away and with the financial and behavioral health needs escalating so rapidly, we simply can’t wait to reach zero cases before rolling back some restrictions. The results of doing so would be catastrophic.
As we continue to strengthen our commitment to containment, we must remember that we are still in the Green Circle. We’ll need to demonstrate success here first before moving to the Blue Square or Black Diamond of our Transition Trail Map.
We will look at many measurements, including the percentage of tests that are positive, the number of people with symptoms, the number of people visiting their health care provider, and the number of people that are being hospitalized. It’s not one measure, rather a combination of these measures that will define our path forward as well as our pace.
Time will tell how well we are doing, but for now, this first step is a locals-only event. It’s a time for residents to come together before we welcome visitors back to our county. We also need this time to begin to heal and recover together. No matter what laws or guidance exists, our success will depend on our community to continue to behave as a community that shares this burden together.
Heath Harmon is the director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment.