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COVID-19

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City employee under quarantine for possible COVID-19 exposure

Council accuses Huerfano County of stealing municipal water: No proof offered by Lalander /Daniels

 

by E.E.Mullens

WALSENBURG — Walsenburg’s interim city administrator Greg Sund announced at the beginning of Tuesday night’s meeting that a city employee is currently quarantined at home after their spouse tested positive for COVID-19 recently.

Mindful of protecting the privacy of both the city employee and their spouse, no names were mentioned. City administration and elected officials did not say that any extra precautions were being taken and that mass testing of city employees was not being undertaken. Sund said the bi-county health department suggested the employee be tested for the virus.

Sund said the city would continue their practice of recording the temperature and taking down information of general health on what has become a standard form, but did not announce any additional policies or actions, such as closing facilities for deep cleaning. Sund said the city would be monitoring the situation closely and watching results of visitor’s health questionnaire answers and their temperatures.

 

Water theft accusation:

At the end of the two and a half hour long city council meeting, under the heading Mayor and City Council Reports, Comments and Directions, Mayor Pro Tem Greg Daniels directed administrator Sund to send a letter to an ‘entity’ that was getting services or materials from the city which were not authorized by the city council. When pressed to identify the ‘entity’ Daniels hesitated, and Mayor Brian Lalander entered into the conversation and identified the ‘entity’ as Huerfano County. Lalander went on to explain that city hall had received ‘reports’ that someone was getting water from a fire hydrant located near the city’s water and waste water treatment facilities. Lalander did not elaborate on where the report came from or how Huerfano County ended up as the named suspect in obtaining the water. Lalander did say after the day after the report was received, he and councilman Nick Vigil drove to the location and found a large puddle of water around the hydrant.

At one point during the discussion, a comment was made that the taking of the water was unauthorized, even if it was being done on a ‘handshake’ agreement between the county and the former city public works director.

The World Journal contacted former Walsenburg PWD David Harriman Wednesday morning and he said that he had never entered into any agreement on behalf of the city with the county regarding water. He said three or four years ago, he did authorize the county to use some city water for application of mag chloride to Lascar Road for a Sonic Bloom event, but the county paid back that favor by hauling gravel to the city’s gravel storage site. He indicated this was a one time issue and no informal or formal agreement regarding water to his knowledge was in place.

The WJ attempted to contact Huerfano County Administrator John Galusha and county public works director Melanie Bounds on Wednesday. Galusha had not responded by deadline, and a voice message indicated Bounds was out of her office until September 28.

After lengthy discussion Tuesday night, Daniels put his direction to administration in the form of a motion, directing Sund to send letters to an unknown number of undisclosed entities advising them to stop using all city services, properties or materials in an unauthorized manner. The motion passed with yes votes from Lalander, Daniels, Vigil and Charlie Montoya. Councilmen Clint Boehler and James Hudgens voted against the motion.

 

In other business:

• City council will conduct a council work session and public tour of the Lathrop Youth Camp buildings beginning at 3:30 pm Tuesday, September 22.

• Council passed Resolution 2020-R-20, which names those authorized to sign city checks and removed those individuals no longer granted such access.

• Passed the form associated with the city’s CARES Act local business relief program but did not fill in the dollar amount range for the payments. Council indicated that figure would be decided upon by the interim administrator and finance director Julie Clayton.

• Approved an MOU between the city, Town of La Veta, Huerfano County and Huerfano County Economic Development Inc. on a 4-2 vote with councilmen Vigil and Montoya voting no.

• Postponed action on the Rock, Sand and Gravel Quarry lease agreement between the city and Huerfano County.

SPRHC staff member tests positive for COVID-19

No outbreak yet at veterans residential center: Recent tests of residents and staff remain negative

 

by Mark Craddock and E.E. Mullens

WALSENBURG — An employee of the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center and Veterans Community Living Center in Walsenburg has tested positive for COVID-19.

The 30-year-old woman is the tenth confirmed COVID-19 case in Huerfano County, as reported September 7 by the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties Regional Health Center. She is recovering at home and the local health department public health nurse has begun a contact investigation.

In a Friday, September 11, press release, hospital spokesperson Debbie Channel said the positive test came as a result of the facility’s weekly testing protocol.

“The facility has been performing COVID nasal swab testing on all Living Center and Swing Bed unit staff members for the past 12 weeks,” the release read. “The goal for the testing is to quickly identify and isolate any positive cases.”

Per guidelines established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), all residents and staff were tested within 48 hours of notification of the positive test. Hospital CEO Kay Whitley said Tuesday that all tests came back negative and the facility retested several residents three days and seven days later, per CMS guidelines. All staff and residents will be tested again in two weeks, Whitley said and, if all tests come back negative, the facility will return to its regular schedule.

Since early in the pandemic, the medical center/residential home has screened all public and staff coming into the facility, and will continue that policy.

“Anyone entering any of the hospital facilities is screened through a questionnaire and temperature check,” according to the release. “All Living Center staff will continue to be tested weekly and adhere to CMS guidelines; using appropriate personal protective equipment, good hand hygiene and social distancing.”

“We are committed to protecting our residents, patients and staff and will continue to adhere to all guidelines including daily screening and all infection control practices.”

The veterans community living center presently houses 80 residents, attended to by about 160 staff members.

Based on state recommendations, the facility had just recently opened the doors for limited outdoor visitations in one of the facility’s courtyards. They were only able to do four or five visits, Whitley said, before the positive test. Those visits are over for the time being, but should resume in a couple weeks. “We had just opened our courtyard visits,” she said. “The reason we waited so long was the smoke (from distant wildfires). We were ready but the smoke wasn’t ready for us to be outside. We immediately closed outdoor visits again and are doing window and Zoom visits.”

“That’s one reason we have stayed COVID free this long,” she said. “We have just not opened up to the public.”

Outbreaks of COVID-19 within residential and nursing facilities have been an ongoing concern during the pandemic.

But at this point, the single case at SPRHC does not constitute an outbreak.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment defines an outbreak as “two or more people who are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a workplace/facility, with onset within 14 days.”

As of Friday, Colorado has logged 655 COVID-19 outbreaks, which have resulted in 12,792 “confirmed and probable outbreak associated cases” and 1,066 “confirmed and probable outbreak case deaths,” according to the CDPHE. The agency reported that 77% of the outbreaks have been resolved.

So far, none have occurred in Huerfano or Las Animas counties.

“We’re all crossing our fingers that it stays this way,” Whitley said. “We’re working hard to keep this out.”

Walsenburg bank closes after employee tests positive for COVID-19

by Mark Craddock

 

WALSENBURG — An employee at the First National Bank in Trinidad, Huerfano County Branch, has tested positive for COVID-19.

The employee last worked at the bank September 12. Out of an abundance of caution, the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties District Health Department is alerting anyone who may have been at the bank between September 8 – September 12.

“Based on our assessment of the situation, and the fact that this individual worked several days while experiencing symptoms, we felt it was important to make people aware,” said Kim Gonzales, public health director. “While there is no need to panic, we encourage people to monitor for symptoms, and to follow the steps outlined below should they begin to feel ill.”

The bank branch was closed Tuesday afternoon, remained closed for sanitation purposes Wednesday and will reopen today with an alternate staff, Trinidad branch President Daryl Aubuchon said Tuesday. In the meantime, he encouraged bank customers to use online banking, ATMs or, if necessary, the bank’s facilities in the Trinidad area.

In a Tuesday press release, Gonzales said public health learned of the situation that day and has been working with bank management to discuss sanitation and cleaning procedures. “First National Bank has been diligently following all disinfection guidelines from local, state, and federal public health agencies, and has been regularly disinfecting and cleaning,” the release said. “In general, you do not need a test if you do not have symptoms,” the release read. “If you think you have been exposed, limit your contact with other people for 14 days after your exposure. However, if you work in a care facility, work at a facility with an outbreak, or you have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, it may be advisable to get a test even if you don’t have symptoms. You should wait at about seven days after the date you think you were exposed before getting tested, unless you develop symptoms.”

The health department said anyone with symptoms should get tested, stay away from others and isolate. Those who think they have been exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days after exposure to prevent further transmission.

The bank employee was one of two Huerfano County residents announced by the health department as confirmed positive COVID-19 cases.

They include a female in her 40’s who is recovering at home and a female in her 50’s who is also recovering at home. These two new cases are not related. Local health department public health nurse has begun a contact investigation to determine if there were any additional exposures.

That brings the total number of Huerfano County COVID-19 cases to 12. See related stories on pages 11 and 12.

First National Bank, Huerfano Branch, in Walsenburg

 

Sign in window at the drive-thru. Staff photos

With ‘the dial,’ state hopes to put locals in charge of their COVID-19 destinies

by Mark Craddock

 

COLORADO — Coloradans will be wearing face masks in public for at least another 30 days, and local agencies have a new tool – “the dial” – to help navigate COVID-19 decision making with less state government red tape.

Those were two takeaways of Governor Jared Polis’ Tuesday press conference in Denver.

In general, Polis said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is seeing a recent uptick in cases, which he attributed to the Labor Day holiday and recent outbreaks on university campuses.

That, he said, prompted him to issue an executive order Saturday extending for “at least another 30 days” his order requiring citizens to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces.

But the big news of the day was the dial.

“Today we’re also unveiling something that the health department has been working on for awhile,” Polis said. “It’s a dial that gives real-time data on a county-by-county basis. It’s a visual representation.”

The dial is based on three key metrics of COVID-19 spread — the number of new cases, the percent positivity of COVID-19 tests and the hospitalization.

Based on these metrics, a county is identified as falling under highly restrictive “Stay at Home” protocols, three stages of “Safer at Home,” or “Protect Our Neighbors,” the least-restrictive protocols in which regional authorities have wide discretion to control their own destinies.

He said the dial is ultimately meant to replace the state’s existing variance system, in which counties must apply to the CDPHE for exceptions to the state’s public health orders.

The dial will move up or down based on the current county metrics, but if a region backslides, it must wait two weeks before it will be re-examined, because there tends to be about a two-week lag between exposures and COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’ve really embraced local decision making and believe local communities are the best ones to balance their economic needs with the measures they need to undertake to save lives.” Polis said. “So that’s a really big step and I can’t wait until all 64 counties have that complete authority.”

Curently, the dial dashboard lists Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Gunnison and Gilpin counties as meeting the criteria for “Protect our Neighbors. Twenty-four counties, including Huerfano and Las Animas, are at level 1 (the safest level) of “Safer at Home,” and may well be at “Protect our Neighbors” status in two weeks.

The dial dashboard can be found at the CDPHE web site: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid-19-dial-dashboard.

State epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said that Colorado’s COVID-19 metrics steadily dropped through August, a fact Polis chalked up to higher levels of mask wearing and social distancing, but have plateaued since Labor Day are are starting to show an upward trend again.

“These are concerning trends,” he said of Colorado’s COVID numbers over the past couple weeks, “not terribly surprising given Labor Day weekend and colleges returning. It just reaffirms for each and every one of us how we need to dedicate ourselves to the best known and effective prevention methods: wearing masks when we’re in public, avoiding large gatherings, getting together only in small groups, and washing hands regularly.

“That’s the toolbox that we have. We are all tired of the virus. But the virus isn’t tired of us. So, it’s still there and the minute we give it the lifestyle that allows it to expand exponentially, it will. So we just have to continue to be smart.”

Trinidad School District #1 Awarded Colorado COVID Relief Funds

courtesy Bonnie Aaron,

TSD1 Superintendent

 

TRINIDAD — Trinidad School District #1 was recently awarded $25,000 of grant funding from the Colorado COVID Relief Fund to help respond to remote instruction in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

This grant award will help support the District’s mission to provide all students with a comprehensive system of support, a safe learning environment, and the opportunity to reach his/her academic and leadership potential as determined by state and national standards. Superintendent Aaron stated “Trinidad School District #1 is pleased to receive this grant award since we are experiencing firsthand the urgent need to equip students with devices due to remote instruction during COVID-19. Providing student devices helps fulfill the district’s mission to provide students the opportunity to reach their academic potential during remote instruction. We believe this grant award will have a significant impact on the education of our students.”

The Colorado COVID Relief Fund was developed to ensure the most acute community needs in Colorado are being addressed. Visit the Trinidad School District #1’s website at tsd1.org to learn more about our district. Click on the Online Learning tab to learn how to access online instruction.

Las Animas County man, Huerfano woman are 21st and 10th COVID-19 cases

World Journal Staff Report

 

OUR WORLD — A 60-year-old Las Animas County man and a 30-year-old Huerfano County woman have tested positive for COVID-19, the Las Animas Huerfano Counties District Health Department reported Tuesday evening.

This marks the 10th confirmed case in Huerfano County and the 21st in Las Animas County.

Both individuals are recovering at home and the local public health nurse has begun a contact investigation of both cases to determine if there were any additional exposures.

“As we continue to see increases in cases for our neighboring counties and states,” the health department release reads, “it’s important to remain vigilant in our defense against COVID-19.”

The health department reiterated its often-repeated advice — that frequent and thorough hand washing, maintaining social distancing, and wearing face coverings when away from home and unable to maintain six feet of distance from others, remains the “best and first line of defense” against infection.

COVID-19 comes to Cimarron – Mayor shuts down protest softball tournament

by Sharon Niederman

 

CIMARRON — A student who recently returned home to Cimarron from college in Oklahoma was given the all clear on her COVID-19 test. But when she got home, she got word the test result was incorrect – she found out she actually had COVID-19.

Meanwhile, she visited friends and acquaintances at the St. James Express Hotel, where she was a seasonal employee in the restaurant. While there, she hugged and warmly greeted folks she knew. She received positive results the next day.

Immediately, the St. James did everything possible to take all precautions and avert the spread of the disease, according to general manager Teri Caid. “We had music that night. This September 4, 2020 event was planned as the first gathering we’d had since the pandemic began, and we were going to let loose.” But the hotel cleared the gathering out and followed its sanitizing routines. They created a list of anyone who had contact with the infected person. They also shut the restaurant and the bar, although the hotel remains open. “We informed people the restaurant and bar are closed,” she said, “and the reason why.”

Anyone who was in contact with the student must wait seven days before being tested. Test results then take 3-5 days to complete.

“We haven’t heard of any other cases,” says Caid.

Simultaneously, to avoid the threat of community spread, Blu Dragonfly Brewing in Cimarron shut down for the weekend.

 

Cimarron Softball Tournament Protests BLM and Governor’s Orders

In a separate event in Cimarron, on Saturday, September 5, a round robin softball tournament organized by Cimarron Village Commissioner Matt Gonzales was held in Maverick Rodeo Grounds, City Park as a Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 protest to object to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’ orders against mass gatherings during the pandemic. Over 60 players and family members from Cimarron, Raton, Maxwell, Las Vegas, and Truchas attended.

Gonzales submitted an application to the village council that was not approved, but went ahead with the event. He maintains he never received a written denial for the event.

“I’m proud of what we did,” Gonzales said. “This is my First Amendment right. COVID is not going away. We wanted to show how we can do this safely by masking, distancing, and limiting participants. We are more locked down in New Mexico than in other states. We raised money for the chamber of commerce and other causes, and we raised awareness of lack of opportunities for youth, lack of rural resources, suicide, abuse, and addiction issues. What we did was positive.”

Cimarron Mayor Leo Martinez said he received calls objecting to the tournament from citizens, and as soon as he became aware of the activity he shut it down. “As soon as we got word of it the state police were alerted,” Martinez said. The gates to the city park were closed.

“He (Gonzales) turned in a form earlier. Although we refused to sign the authorization, he went ahead and started it up anyway,” Martinez said.

New COVID-19 and Women’s Vote exhibits to virtually open on Friday September 11 at MoF

courtesy Maria Cocchiarelli-Berger

 

WALSENBURG — The Museum of Friends (MoF) is pleased to announce that two new exhibits will open to the public on a Live Stream Facebook Event on Friday September 11 at 5 pm RMST. The exhibit on the first floor in the Changing Exhibition Gallery is COVID-19 Crisis or Opportunity, Artists Response Group Exhibition, which runs through November 30.

The opportunity is that the theme is creativity in the time of COVID-19. One that resonates with artists around the world. The works in the show do not necessarily represent images of the virus or its negative consequences, but the overflowing of creativity in this time of change. The theme attracted visual artists, sculptors, photographers and film-makers from many parts of the world: Sophia, Bulgaria; Edinburg, Texas;  Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; San Francisco and Oakland, California; New York, Philadelphia; Denver, Aguilar, Walsenburg, Trinidad and La Veta, Colorado; and many other locals.

The crisis is being shut in – isolated – separate from the camaraderie that we know of as the art community.  The opportunity is the time it allotted us to think – to begin to see new ways of being.  How we cope while staying safe and practicing healthy habits so that the virus will not overcome us is also a theme, we heard from many of our artist friends.  There are so many emotions being expressed in this exhibit: fear, anxiety, hope, clarity.  Some of the artists stuck with what they know – having more time – they even perfected their work further. The youngest artist in the show is Brandy Gilbert.  Her works were inspired by found wood and the repetition of patterns. The other artists in the exhibit are: Linn Baker, Tim Baker, Brendt Berger, Ann Bradford, Maria Cocchiarelli, Ben Eagle, Ray Espinoza, P.D. Garrett, Archil Gheghechkori, Brandy Gilbert, Elizabeth Hansen, Kathy Hill, Jim Long, Chris MacMichael, Emily Nieswiadomy, Charles Parson, Collin Parson, Devon Parson, John Raggio, Brian Rosino, Lika Shubitidze, Gregory Tait, Miryana Todonova, Annamarie Trombetta, Paul Valadez, Gary Weston, and Jan Wurm.

On the second floor opening is Votes for Women: a Portrait of Persistence poster exhibition (livestream on Facebook 5:45 pm RMST.) This exhibit is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery. This project received support from the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative. The crusade for women’s suffrage is one of the longest reform movements in American history. Between 1832 and 1920, women citizens organized for the right to vote, agitating first in their states or territories and then, simultaneously, through petitioning for a federal amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Based on the National Portrait Gallery exhibition of the same name, Votes for Women seeks to expand visitors’ understanding of the suffrage movement in the United States. The poster exhibition addresses women’s political activism, explores the racism that challenged universal suffrage, and documents the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment which prohibits the government from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. It also touches upon the suffrage movement’s relevance to current conversations on voting and voting rights across America.

Raton gets $718K for small business grants under NM CARES Act

City of Raton press release

 

RATON — The City of Raton has been awarded $718,875 in Business Relief Funding under the New Mexico CARES Act.

On August 31, 2020 New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the awarding of $50 Million in small business grant funding across the state impacted by COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has brought a time of uncertainty for many small business owners. We’ve worked diligently at a local level to provide assistance to small businesses within our community from providing micro loans to applying for state and federal relief funds,” said Scott Berry, Raton City Manager. “The city was proactive in advocating for Raton businesses and we are excited to have the ability to offer grants to the small businesses within our community who have been impacted significantly by COVID-19.”

Raton is creating a grant program for funds to be disbursed and will be announcing the small business grant application process within the next week with the intent of moving the grant process along quickly and getting local businesses relief funds fast. When the application and eligibility criteria become available further information will be released so that interested business owners may take part in the process.

Up-to-date information will be posted on the city’s official website, www.ratonnm.gov. Please contact Jessica Barfield with any questions at jbarfield@cityofraton.com or by calling 575-445-5991.

Huerfano RE-1 school begins in-person September 9

by Jaye Sudar

 

WALSENBURG — The Huerfano RE-1 Board of Education held a special meeting on Monday evening to discuss the 2020-2021 school year in response to the latest information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Superintendent Mike Moore presented a wealth of information to the board. As there have only been nine cases out of a population of 6800, 53% of the staff is ready to return to in person instruction. A poll of 263 parents and guardians showed that 73.7% were for returning to school, and 26.3% were for continuing remote learning. The rate of infections in the county is low, and the neighboring Aguilar School District has been in session since August 3 without incident.

The administrative team of both schools were confident that the schools and staff were ready, and that the plans were solid. On the video call, the board heard from a student, a parent, and teachers on how each felt about school. While the student and teachers were ready to return, the parent expressed the desire to continue online education. Moore stated that was fine, as it is one of the options available, and no student will be penalized for continuing to attend school virtually instead of coming in person. The Huerfano Education Association (HEA) supports the decision to return to in person education, and the Health Department gave their blessings to the district and their plan.

 

The options

Moore provided two options for the board to consider that evening— return to school September 8, or go back on the 9. The board approved the September 9 date, as this would give students and staff one more day online to prepare for returning to school.

The plan

While more details of the reopening plan will be forthcoming, the schools are gearing up to welcome students back into the buildings. Online education is still available for those who wish to use it. The district is making sure that all students, whether they return physically or not, are treated to the same standard of care and education. Moore estimates that 30% of students may take this option. Any student wishing to change plans may do so at the quarter breaks.

Peakview has prepared classrooms with social distancing in mind for the K-5 classes. Peakview Middle School students will be on an A/B schedule like John Mall High School. Mondays and Tuesdays will see students with last names A through L attending classes in person. Students with last names M through Z will attend school on Wednesdays and Thursdays. When not physically at school, students will attend online. This schedule accommodates the issues of larger class sizes, as well as the typical high school subjects taught by individual teachers. Teachers are working to ensure that the schedule, once the school reopens, lines up pretty closely with what students have already been doing online to ease the transition.

Bus routes

In-town bus routes will not be available at this time due to social distancing requirements. As previously stated, seating will be spaced out with the exception of family groups, which will be allowed to sit together. The Gardner Valley School route will start September 3.

Outbreak procedures

Should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 in the schools, the district will follow the State and Health Department requirements. This could range from notifications, 48 hour shutdowns for cleaning, to total shutdown of the district. This response would be in accordance to the severity of the outbreak.

In other business

The board also approved the hire of Vanessa Moreno as a part time paraprofessional for JMHS, and the addition of Faith Espinoza to the substitute secretary list.

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