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COVID-19

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MCMC board addresses staff development, flu vaccinations; elects officers

by Sharon Niederman

 

RATON — At the Sept. 18, 2020 Miners Colfax Medical Center board of trustees meeting, CEO Bo Beames announced that while the hospital’s professional staff hiring was going well, there was a need for hiring and retention of support staff. “People come and work for four days, then they disappear,” he said. There is also a need for another pediatric doctor on the staff, and recruitment is in process.

In addition to the anticipated arrival of family practice doctor Douglas Smith in the clinic, Dr. Ted Lee, who has several years of experience at MCMC, will be serving as “locum tenens,” that is, working various shifts as needed. Also, Dina Lewis will be joining the staff as hospitalist, bringing that aspect of clinical management to full coverage.

Beames also reported that surgeries were up and the hospital’s two “first class” surgeons, Dr. Angel Wright and Dr. Heather Cook, were busy. Obstetric deliveries were also up, as are ER admissions.

Two unrelated cases of COVID-19 presented in the ER and the illness is now identified in lab tests taking 45 minutes to one hour.

The board elected officers, keeping the current slate in position, including William “Cotton” Jarrell as chairman, Dr. Donald Belknap, Vice-Chair, and Shawn Jeffrey, Treasurer.

Denise Dawes, Chief Nursing Officer, announced a flu vaccine program, United Against the Flu, that aimed for a hundred percent vaccination of hospital staff with mid-November as target date of completion. Dr. Belknap speculated this flu season might see the illness tamped down due to mask wearing. While it is recommended that the general public receive flu shots from their family physicians, Dr. Belknap suggested those receiving the “super” dose aimed at people over 65 do it soon, as the supply could run out. Gene Sisneros mentioned the VA is running a flu shot clinic.

CFO Lonny Medina reported $11.9 million in funds was up $5 million from a year ago this time. This figure was explained by the inclusion of federal payments due to COVID-19 and PPE. “People are coming back into the hospital,” he said. The hospital is beginning its fisal year audit.

Regarding long term care, Beames said the dedicated visitor room in the facility, where residents may visit with families through a screen, is working well. He congratulated the long term care facility on its COVID-free status.

Charles Pollard, director of the black lung outreach program, announced plans for a virtual Miners’ Day program on December 3, 2020. The black lung program was re-funded for five years.

A $275,000 grant was received to improve community and behavioral health in NE New Mexico, with focus on Raton and Clayton.

The board also discussed ways of fine-tuning its client survey response.

The next meeting will be held Oct. 16, 2020 at 1 p.m., streaming on Facebook.

Raton Board of Education meeting reflects the coming long term financial impact of COVID-19

by Todd Brogowski

 

RATON — During the Monday, September 21, 2020, Raton Board of Education Meeting, it seemed that all topics led to the question of how schools will be able to afford to educate their students post-pandemic. The discussion began with teacher and summer school focal Liz Wick addressing how summer school changed due to remote learning. Typically, only 20-25 students would be able to attend summer school. However, because of the use of remote learning technology, there were far more students in summer school (the exact number was unavailable), able to make up classes at times that fit in with students’ summer jobs.

 

Loss of students will likely reduce Raton schools’ available funding

Dr. Christopher Bonn, the Superintendant of Raton Public Schools, and the principals of Longfellow Elementary, Raton Intermediate, and Raton High Schools, addressed a significant concern: the Raton Public School system has been losing students since the start of the pandemic. Bonn reported that the current estimated loss of students was 75 students across all grades, but this was based on incomplete data. With the loss of 75 students, Raton would still have the same facilities and personnel costs but would likely receive less funding from the New Mexico Public Education Department. Bonn stated that, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more students have been enrolling in online-only remote learning schools, contributing to this potential problem.

Bonn’s concerns reflect a new battle for schools. No longer are public schools competing with local charter schools and parochial schools, but now they compete with statewide or even national online learning programs for students. Additionally, public schools may have considered salaries and teachers’ pensions to be their largest expenditures in the past, but now are experiencing a growing need to obtain technology solutions or update out-of-date technology solutions. Compounding this problem is that schools nationwide are fighting for the same resources. Ainsworth explained that the Raton School District could not rely on Chromebooks being available for students till January 2021, hence the need for Apple iPads.

Proposed resolution: stipend for teachers as tech support

Bonn raised the second issue that reflected the technological and social changes forced upon schools by the pandemic: a request for an additional stipend for those teachers working after school to help students address technical problems. The superintendent did address this request with a proposed resolution on the agenda. However, the Board of Education unanimously voted to table the resolution because of a lack of information regarding who would receive the stipend and where they would be located to assist students in the schools.

Brian Ainsworth, a representative of the district’s remote learning contractor, Plan B, stated that Plan B had also opened a dedicated help desk for the Raton School District’s students, teachers, staff, and parents. Plan B’s help desk raises the question of whether the school district was duplicating the contractor’s services.

 

Tech purchases: speed competes with the need for information

A second proposed resolution for authorization to purchase tech tools using the Raton School District’s general fund was also tabled for lack of detail. Bonn designed the proposal to make purchases from the general fund and later request reimbursement via a grant application after the money becomes available on October 23, 2020.

Ainsworth explained some of the school district’s needs, stating that the school needed to purchase numerous computers for principals, faculty, student use, and staff, including multiple $6-7,000 Mac Pro computers (Apple’s top model of computers, often used for editing video and computer programming) for the principals and numerous iPads for student use. Additional purchases would relate to 1,500 licenses for the entire Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, cellular hotspots, and wireless hotspots for school district parking lots so that students without at-home wifi would be able to connect to school wifi.

Board secretary Beaver Segotta raised the concern that there was no detailed plan outlining both the school district’s needs and the proposed solutions for those needs, stating that he was concerned about a potential audit if such a plan was not provided. The board agreed unanimously to table this discussion until Ainsworth could work with the district’s principals to give a more detailed needs assessment next month.

New Mexico Governor loosens state park restrictions for residents

by Lillian Eva Lieske

 

NEW MEXICO — During a virtual news conference on Thursday the 17, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham listed a few of the COVID-19 restrictions that are being loosened up. Among those restrictions, New Mexico residents will be permitted to camp at open state parks, so long as there are no more than 10 in a group, effective October 1.

According to the Energy, Minerals,& Natural Resources Department of the State, reservations must be made ahead of time and are subject to change and or cancellations. As of now, all NM state parks are still closed to out-of-state residents.

For more information please visit nmstatepark.com for reservations and NM State Parks “know before you go” procedures and suggestions.

Frontline staff self-quarantine forces Walsenburg City Hall closure

Hurfano County COVID-19 cases rise to 17, with 10 new cases in eight days

 

by Mark Craddock

WALSENBURG — Walsenburg City Hall will remain closed until at least Monday, after two utility billing clerks chose to self-quarantine in the wake of a positive COVID-19 test of a fellow employee late last week.

The man is the husband of a First National Bank of Trinidad, Huerfano County Branch employee, who tested positive for COVID-19, forcing a two-day closure of the branch September 15.

There have been four new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Huerfano County in the past week, including the city employee, and one new case reported in Las Animas County.

That brings the total number of cases to 17 in Huerfano County and 24 in Las Animas County. Colfax County, NM, has seen 27 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Walsenburg Interim City Manager Greg Sund said he was made aware of the possible SARS-Cov-2 exposure of the employee on September 12.

“At that point, it was not our employee,” Sund said. “He had just called and said (his wife) had tested positive and he was off work because of that. I was informed of the positive test late in the afternoon September 18.”

He said the health department conducted contact tracing, interviewing the city employees who had contact with the man between September 8 and September 11. As a result, four employees were placed on quarantine and four more placed on “symptom watch,” meaning they were cleared to return to work but were monitoring themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.

All eight have been tested for COVID-19 but test results are still pending, according to Finance Director/Deputy City Manager Julie Clayton.

Sund said he encouraged remaining employees to clean their office areas and vehicles, but did not call for additional measures to be taken.

City Hall was closed not because of the positive COVID-test, he said, but because two utility billing clerks took the week off. They chose to independently get tested for SARS-CoV-2, and cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in staying home until they received their test results, he said.

“When four people are off, it has a huge effect on our operation, so we have to deal with who is remaining on staff,” Sund said. “So we’re assessing what we can do.”

The city hall was closed Monday, September 21 and will remain closed until probably Monday, September 28, Clayton said.

On Wednesday, Huerfano County Administrator John Galusha posted to Facebook, “Please be aware that… there have been 10 new cases of COVID-19 in Huerfano County in the past eight days. And we currently have 76 people under quarantine. If we continue on that pace, we risk restrictions on our activities. Please be proactive and use the protective measures you have heard repeatedly over the past few months.”

The Las Animas Huerfano Counties District Health Department reported the 24th Las Animas County case on Sept. 17, a juvenile male who is resting at home.

On Sept. 18, local health department reported that a Huerfano County man in his 30s was recovering at home after testing positive.

On Sept. 21, a 50-year-old Huerfano County man was confirmed positive for COVID-19 and was reportedly resting at home.

And on Tuesday, Sept. 22, the local health department reported two more Huerfano County cases, a man in his 40s and a man in his 60s. Both were reportedly recovering at home.

Of the Huerfano County cases, the local health department said, eight are active and one patient is hospitalized.

The positive cases have been placed in isolation and all close contacts have been quarantined. The public health nurse has begun contact investigations of all cases to determine if there were any additional exposures, the health department said. The new cases come on the heels of a busy previous week (September 9-16), in which an employee of the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center and Veterans Community Living facility tested positive, as did an employee of First National Bank of Trinidad, Huerfano County branch.

Under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment “dial” system, Huerfano County remains at Safer at Home, Level 1.

The metrics for that level include a two-week incidence of positive cases below 75 per 100,000, a percent positivity no greater than 5%, and stable or declining hospitalizations. E.E. Mullens contributed to this report

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.

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