Harmon: Finding common ground
We have just about closed out our first two weeks in the Green Circle phase of rolling back some of the COVID-19 restrictions. I continue to hear voices on both sides of this unprecedented coin, which I deeply appreciate. After all, the voices represent our community and our needs and interests. That said, we haven’t heard from everyone yet, and we can continue to work on finding more common ground when opinions differ.
It is important to know that the virus is not going away anytime soon. We don’t expect that the number of new cases will get to zero in the next few weeks or even the next several months. We have heard about our ability to return to normal when an effective vaccine has reached every community, but what happens between now and 18 months from now when we hope a vaccine is available?
It’s time to reimagine our future, at least in the near-term. We can’t possibly operate in a stay-at-home or even a safer at home model indefinitely. Look, our health as a community relies heavily on our economy and our economy relies heavily on the health — physical and emotional — of our residents and workforce. These concepts are not in opposition, rather tied to one another.
I encourage us to think about our future with this connected perspective. One that considers traditional economic measures that are reviewed in combination with some less than traditional measures that best represent our community as a whole. For example, unemployment rates and infection rates for local residents can help demonstrate a commitment to the financial and physical health of our community and their intrinsic connection.
Eagle County Public Health and Environment is working with our health and medical partners to refine some key performance indicators to help track COVID-19 impacts in the community and ensuring we are “comfortable” moving to the next phase in the Transition Trail Map. This is a work in progress that still requires some tangible measures, but here are some examples of indicators we could use.
Local disease trends
- Concerning: number of new cases show an upward trend over 15 days.
- Comfortable: new cases are identified early; patients are isolating and quarantining safely.
Number of new cases
- Concerning: new cases double over a five-day period of time.
- Comfortable: new cases stay level and remain low.
Percent of positive tests
- Concerning: with consistent testing volume, a rate of greater than 20%
- Comfortable: with consistent testing volume, a rate of less than 10%
Hospital admissions and medical visits
- Concerning: increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations; increases in outpatient visits for respiratory illnesses.
- Comfortable: stable and low rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations; stable and low rates outpatient visits for respiratory illness.
Our path forward will require a few compromises. It must also demonstrate protections for our community members that are most vulnerable. Whether you are at greater risk for severe disease, work on the frontlines of our essential businesses, or represent the diverse workforce of our hospitality and tourism-based economy, we have to support one another as best we can to continue to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
We can do this and we will do this. We will work together locally and statewide on efforts that are necessary to support the health and economic needs. This will include guidance for child care and summer camps, working to reimagine what in-person school can look like in the fall, how we can all support the ongoing behavioral health needs of our friends and family members, all while continuing to suppress COVID-19 spread.
It won’t be easy. It will require a healthy dose of creativity and working from a position of building common ground among the many voices that make our community as special as it is.
Heath Harmon is the director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment.