Elbert County's COVID-19 numbers climbing toward 'red' territory

Health director urges residents to wear masks, keep distance, limit outings

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Five people in Elbert County had died of COVID-19 as of Nov. 24. As of that same day, 562 residents had been diagnosed with the virus, and with the numbers increasing at an alarming rate each day, Elbert County is quickly approaching the point of tightened restrictions that could be a severe blow to local businesses.

Once the county reaches a positivity rate of 15% (on Nov. 24 it was at 14.75%), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment planned to move the county from level orange to level red on the COVID dial framework. That dial level is what bordering Arapahoe and Douglas counties recently were moved to.

At that point, restaurants in the county will be ordered to cease indoor dining and other businesses will face tighter restrictions. The level after that, purple, would be a stay-at-home order similar to what was put in place in the spring.

According to Dwayne Smith, director of Elbert County Public Health, the only way to prevent a level red status is for every resident to do their part by adhering to safety guidelines, including wearing a mask, social distancing and staying home as much as possible.

“This should not be a political issue,” said Smith. “If further restrictions are placed on restaurants and businesses, they may not be able to survive the downturn in revenue. We want to support them as much as we can, but we need the help of the community in adhering to public health orders.”

Smith stresses the fact that his department, or county officials, won't be the ones making the decision to close businesses. That task would come from the CDPHE.

“We're trying to navigate a middle ground, and we are currently allowing restaurants to remain open at 50% capacity with strict adherence to public health orders,” said Smith. “But we are a small health department, and we are swimming upstream against a rip current of momentum in terms of COVID transmission and cases.”

Smith said they have some evidence that people are being exposed at local businesses, and community spread continues to worsen as residents choose their own personal comfort and beliefs over the needs of the community. Elizabeth and the area near Parker are seeing the highest numbers in the county, but positive cases are now trickling into surrounding areas, including Simla.

“The community is the creator of the data, and in order to prevent a move to level red, it necessitates a community response to improve the data,” said Smith. “That means lessening transmission, lessening infection, and getting us back to a safer environment than we are currently in.”

The increasing number of positive cases has made it impossible for the county to continue doing any contact tracing, and Smith is asking citizens to take personal responsibility if they think they have been exposed to the virus.

“The volume of cases for the last several weeks has exceeded our capacity to conduct positive case investigation and contact tracing,” said Smith. If you think you've been exposed, don't wait for a call from a contact tracer. Assume responsibility, notify people you've been in contact with and self-quarantine.”

There have been no reported positive cases in the Elbert County jail or in either of the two senior care centers in the county.

“Now is the time for everyone to do their part,” said Smith. “If everyone takes the current restrictions seriously, we never need to reach the next level of restrictions. We need to take responsibility for our own community if we don't want the state to impose restrictions, and the easiest way to do that is to wear a mask, social distance and stay home as much as possible.”

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