by Brandon Waller
RATON — As the global Coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, risks of the virus have affected local businesses throughout Raton— some are closed until further notice, some are taking great precautions, all are concerned.
Businesses such as 111 Park, the local coffee shop, have enacted prevention efforts such as disallowing the public from walking in for orders. They are now requesting instead that customers call in their order for pickup or delivery. The State of New Mexico Governor’s Office has issued guidelines stating that there are to be 6 feet in distance from dining table to dining table, with no more than 6 seats per table; there is to be no seating for customers at a bar; and standing customers are forbidden, which causes havoc for places such as the 111 Park Espresso Bar, the Colfax Ale Cellar, and many other restaurants in the Raton area, in addition to all bars and restaurants throughout Colfax County, such as Cold Beer, NM and the historic St. James in Cimarron.
Other local businesses, such as the Kastler Law Offices and the Raton Natural Gas Company have shut their doors until further notice to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The State of New Mexico has also closed all schools including school functions, and other public meetings have been cancelled as well, such as the upcoming Miners Colfax Medical Center Board of Trustees meeting. To help students affected by the school closure, The Art of Snacks restaurant, located at 1117 S. Second Street in Raton, is handing out free lunches to those who rely on school lunch. They are also accepting donations to help feed the children. For more information, please contact Art of Snacks at (575) 707-8020.
Facilities such as the Arthur Johnson Memorial Library and the Miner’s Colfax Medical Center have also posted signs requesting that individuals that are symptomatic of COVID-19 do not enter, at recommendation from the New Mexico Department of Health.
These symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Other factors include signs of a respiratory infection, if you’ve travelled to a high risk country recently, if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or even if you’ve recently travelled to a state that has been experiencing widespread community transmission of the virus.
Super Save Grocery Store in Raton has also been affected by the global COVID-19 outbreak, with the store having to place limits of two per customer on items such as toilet paper and cases of bottled water. Due to consumers’ panic buying of these items, store staff are unable to keep the items on the shelves, causing a shortage for the community. Other items such as meat, potatoes, milk, and canned goods have been flying off the shelves at an unprecedented rate, also due to panic buying/stocking up of supplies.
If you are unsure if a business that you wish to visit has been closed, or has restrictions in place, please give a call ahead to check and see what precautions that business has put into place to prevent viral spread. As always, be diligent in washing your hands (20 seconds is recommended) and be sure to bleach or sanitize all contacted surfaces, such as door handles, toilet flush handles, and faucet knobs/handles. If you believe you may be symptomatic, please contact your doctor or health care professional by telephone immediately.
by Jesse Gallegos
LAS VEGAS/ SPRINGER — Luna Community College announced March 16 it will extend spring break for students through Friday, March 20, and that all classes that can be transferred to distance education will do so beginning on Monday, March 23. Students currently taking online classes can continue to do so. At that time Luna expected to go back to its normal day-to-day operations on Monday, April 6.
However, the next day, the college anounced it was moving to distance education classes, and closing campuses to students and the public as it addresses the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. Luna will close its campuses until at least Monday, April 6; however, the date could change depending on the crisis. The Luna Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting at the college Tuesday morning addressing the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak and the safety of Luna students, staff and faculty. Aside from its main campus in Las Vegas, Luna has satellite campuses in Santa Rosa and Springer and a site in Mora.
Luna instructors are in the process of contacting all students to provide more detailed information. Students are also encouraged to contact their instructors via phone or e-mail. The college’s main phone number is 1-800-588-7232, and a full campus directory is available at luna.edu/directory.
Any student who does not have the capability to resume their course(s) via distance education may have the option to receive an incomplete. Students who receive an incomplete will have the opportunity to finish the coursework at a later date per the institutional policy in the college catalog (pg. 46-47). Students may also select to withdraw from the course(s) by contacting the Office of the Registrar via your LCC student email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Students considering either option shall first consult with their instructor(s). Please keep in mind that a withdrawal from courses/semester may affect a student’s financial aid eligibility.
Part of the college’s emergency plan is also to have some employees work from home to reduce the foot traffic on its campuses. All offices will remain open with a minimal staff and will be available via phone or e-mail.
In addition, the college announced closings of the Early Childhood Daycare and the Gerald Ortega Wellness Center. All college-sponsored or college-hosted events scheduled in the near future have also been postponed or cancelled. The college received news Monday from the National Junior College Athletic Association that it has cancelled the remainder of spring competition. Luna competes in both softball and baseball.
Students, employees and the public are encouraged to visit the college’s website at luna.edu or view its Facebook page for updated information. Luna students and employees are also encouraged to sign up for the college’s RAVE alerts that provide emergency information via text messaging. To sign up for RAVE, go to the college’s website and access the “Students” drop-down menu; click “sign up for RAVE alerts,” then follow instructions.
The main campus will close daily at 6 p.m. through April 6. In addition, only Luna’s north entrance will allow access to the campus.
For New Mexico status updates regarding coronavirus, visit https://cv.nmhealth.org
For national status updates: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
by Bill Knowles
TRINIDAD — During a special meeting Tuesday evening, the Trinidad School District #1 school board voted 5-0 to close the district schools from March 23-31. Students are currently on spring break. The closure comes on the heels of recommendations made by the Las Animas/Huerfano Counties Public Health Department hoping to ensure the safety of all students and staff.
Children ages 0-18 have the option to pick up free grab and go meals at the curbs of Fishers Peak Elementary or Trinidad Middle School, on Park Street, March 23-26 and March 30-31 from 11:00-1:00.
The district has taken precautions since the beginning of the flu season by holding student handwashing clinics. Students and staff were screened for flu symptoms and the schools were regularly disinfected and fogged.
At the onset of COVID-19, additional measures were taken. These included SchoolMessengar calls to parents directing them to the district website for updates and resources, increased fogging and disinfecting the schools and fogging the buses. Athletics has been postponed and the schools will remain closed until the end of March.
If and when school resumes, concerts, banquets, dances and graduation will be considered. And it is to be noted that state assessments are on hold.
Administrators and teachers are in the planning stages of three different models for remote learning: paper packets and worksheets for families without internet access, lessons that can be accessed via smartphones, and learning that can be done with full internet access and computers.
The onset of COVID-19 has also thrown a wrench into construction plans for the middle school and there is a possibility that the virus will stall out the project where material deliveries might be late as companies could see a loss of employees due to the virus.
Due to the uncertainty of the arc of COVID-19 infections and how they will affect the population, the district, in a press release dated March 17, said they will continue to seek the guidance of the Las Animas and Huerfano County Public Health Department along with the Colorado Department of Education on any changes in the opening and/or closing of schools. These future changes to schedules will be updated on the district website and parent notifications will be sent via SchoolMessenger.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The CDC and CDPHE recommend individuals and families follow:
Voluntary Home Isolation: Stay home when you are sick with respiratory disease symptoms. At the present time, these symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19-related virus.
Respiratory Etiquette: Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash can.
Hand Hygiene: Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
Environmental Health Action: Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces and objects.
The CDC is NOT recommending masks for the general public.
by Bill Knowles
LAS ANIMAS — Following President Trump’s March 13 declaration of a national emergency in the face of the growing numbers of people in the country being diagnosed as having COVID-19, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ordered all bars and restaurants in the state to close down in an effort to protect the public health. The order also targets gyms, theaters, and casinos across the state to close on March 16.
The World Journal was curious how this is working out for Trinidad and Las Animas County.
Public safety is the primary concern of governments, the reason the order was issued in the first place. When someone calls 9-1-1, they will hear the dispatcher ask questions of not only the nature of the emergency but about the health of individuals in the area of the emergency; questions about fevers, headaches, shortness of breath.
If someone in the area of the emergency has those symptoms, the emergency responders are immediately notified so they can put on masks and gloves to protect themselves. This helps protect the responders to the possibility of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Whether the responders are sheriff, police, fire, or ambulance they will be wearing masks and gloves if there is a positive response to the questions on fevers, headaches, shortness of breath.
Schools throughout the county went on spring break early with classes slated to resume by the end of the month. Trinidad School kids and their parents or caregivers can go to a designated place to pick up a meal if they’re on the lunch program and to pick up assignment packets.
The World Journal was unable to contact the other schools in the county because phone service is in high demand and some calls just couldn’t get through.
Businesses in the city that aren’t under the close or restriction order are grocery stores, markets, convenience stores, pharmacies, drug stores, and food pantries.
Room service in hotels and motels, healthcare facilities, residential care facilities, congregate care facilities, and juvenal care facilities don’t fall under the Health Department’s order.
Trinidad City Hall is closed to the public. If permits are needed customers can apply online at the city’s website. Other city operations such as the library, both the Community and Senior Centers are closed along with the Welcome Center and Municipal Court.
At the county, the driver’s license office was closed by the state for 30-days, but everything else is open.
Another problem encountered is with the phone systems as noted above. People are staying home and doing their work on computers and their cell phones. This is causing a heavier than normal load on the infrastructure. Phone calls can’t get through because all circuits are busy or they’re being dropped as the load grows during the course of the day.
by Conor Orr
LA VETA — On Monday, March 16, the RE-2 Board of Education met to discuss closing the school in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing food insecurity in the community while the school is closed, and they made a decision about what to put in the center of the football field.
In accordance with the Colorado Health Department’s recommendation, the board voted to close the school until April 6th. Since this is being treated as an extension of their spring break, teachers have not assigned any homework for the time being. School officials anticipate though there may be a need to move to online schooling after the 6th, so they are working now to make sure that all of their students will have access to internet and learning materials for as long as the need for social distancing lasts.
Each student has been assigned to a teacher who will be checking in over the break starting March 30, and if online schooling becomes necessary, the school will employ several different methods to keep the students engaged. Since not every student has access to reliable internet at home, the IT department is working to set up wifi access across campus so that parents and students can drive into the parking lot and download whatever materials are necessary from their cars.
There is also the potential to send laptops home with those students who would not otherwise have access to a computer at home. Instruction will resume on April 6, whether in-person or home-based. In the meantime, the school board encourages all students to read, spend plenty of time outside, and to spend some significant time each day away from their devices, since the news cycle at the moment can be particularly damaging to mental health. Some fresh air and sunlight will not stop you from getting the virus, but it will help to prevent the equally deadly and oft-unspoken disease of depression.
The regular check-ins from teachers and paraprofessionals are intended to help address mental health concerns as well as to make sure that students are engaged in the learning process.
There is a tremendous effort going on right now to address food insecurity while the schools are closed. For some students, the free or reduced lunch program is a critical source of nutrition and with schools closed for the foreseeable future, school boards everywhere are scrambling to make sure that they can keep feeding students in need. Luckily, the La Veta district is the beneficiary of an anonymous donor who has been supporting the program and will continue to provide funds for food to the school in these trying times. There will be food boxes available for drive-through pick up from 3-5pm on Thursday, March 19, and will be available weekly beginning April 1.
There are concerns about how the school’s hourly waged employees will be compensated during this time, but the board expects that they will continue to be paid, though much is still in the air. As of right now, the school board’s main ambition is to continue providing support and education for students and they endeavor to be fair and upfront with the community as the situation develops.
This meeting was another opportunity for the public to weigh in on the matter of the school’s branding, though significantly fewer people showed up to this meeting than the last. Only one citizen spoke on the issue of the mascot and was in favor of changing it, based on the broad literature surrounding the effects of racist mascots, which he implores the school board and community to seek out.
The board will not vote on the mascot anytime soon, but has considered public opinion on the matter to inform their decision about what to put in the center of the new football field. After some discussion, Director Neldner and a member of the audience brought up the fact that there doesn’t even need to be a logo in the center of the field at all. The current field doesn’t have one, and the turf can always be painted for Homecoming games. In fact, as the board quickly realized, not installing a logo into the field would increase its flexibility, since La Veta is currently only able to field a 6-man football team but intends to play 8-man and even 11-man football in the future. If the logo was permanent, then it would end up being off-center as the field’s uses change. Subsequently, the board did vote 4-1 to move forward with the building of the new field without a logo stitched into the center. Other elements of branding were discussed, standardized colors for example, as were several acronym-heavy policy matters.
by Mark Craddock
LA VETA — Social distancing was clearly on the minds of La Veta Town Board members when they met Tuesday, March 17, at the town community center.
The larger room allowed board members to sit a safe distance from citizens, whose chairs were likewise positioned a safe distance from one another. The board routinely meets in the much more intimate confines of its Main Street meeting hall.
The first order of business was passage of an emergency ordinance that will allow the board to convene “virtual meetings” during times of emergencies, such as Gov. Jared Polis’ disaster declaration in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. The ordinance will become effective upon publication, which will allow the board to meet electronically during the present public health emergency.
Likewise, the board agreed to close Town Hall to most business for the duration of the crisis. They plan to keep the outer door unlocked, but plan to lock the inner vestibule door.
Board members urged citizens to pay their water bills via the door’s mail slot and to conduct other town matters digitally or over the phone.
In other business
The board agreed to draft a letter of support for La Veta Trails in its quest to receive a grant from the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance for maintenance of hiking trails in the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Area.
The board unanimously denied a request by Kyle DeNardo to place a cellular tower at La Veta Oil. Mayor Doug Brgoch said the plan calls for a 50-foot tower to be constructed on 300 square feet in the town’s historic district. Current zoning requirements call for a minimum of 7,000 square feet of land and a structure no taller than 35 feet.
Board members unanimously approved a request by Two Peaks Fitness to use part of Town Park during its Oktoberfest 2020 5K and half-marathon runs. The board accepted “as substantially complete” a liquor license request by La Veta Country Store. A public hearing was scheduled for May 5, 2020, 6:45 pm.
The board accepted “as substantially complete” a change-of-location for Mission Deli Mesa’s liquor license to its new location on Oak Street. A public hearing was scheduled for May 5, 2020, 6:30 pm.
The board also accepted “as substantially complete” a special-use permit application for Ralph Jones for his non-conforming mobile home park on Oak Street. A public hearing was scheduled for April 7, 2020, 6:45 pm.
Trustee Tim Tady was appointed as a director to the Huerano County Economic Development Board.
The board approved vacation requests by Laurie Erwin, Mark Erwin and Harold Wilburn.
Likewise, trustees OKed a request by Municipal Judge Cathy Mullens to attend an April conference in Vail.
The board unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Two Peaks Fitness to use the town baseball field for little-league games this summer.
Jay Davis and Mary Ann Wallace were appointed to the Francisco Fort Museum Board.
Trustees agreed to hire Colorado Crushing at $60,000 to crush 20,000 tons of gravel for upcoming road repairs.
by Jaye Sudar
WALSENBURG — An emergency meeting was held by the Huerfano RE-1 school board on March 13 to discuss the Coronavirus outbreak. The board room was packed with concerned parents, staff, and community members.
Superintendent Mike Moore started by outlining the concerns, responsibilities, and plans that the district had been working on since the Coronavirus had first appeared in the U.S. At the in-service held Friday morning, he polled the staff on their thoughts and preparations for this situation. While there were no verified cases in the district at the moment, it was mentioned that it was only a matter of time until the first case appeared. He announced that 70 percent of those in attendance at the in-service were in favor of closing the schools.
Various members of the board and audience spoke of their concerns. Administrators stated their staffs were prepared to do either online classwork, or to hand out packets. The IT department stated they were ready to assist as well. In fact, several online education services have promised free log-ins and services for affected school districts. Further plans would be finalized and set into motion as needed. Information would be given out on the district’s websites and Facebook page.
Moore spoke of the various closures from major league sporting events to over 50 Colorado school districts closing for at least two weeks. He explained that with our multi-generational community, the chance of spreading the virus was much higher than if school was canceled. Plus, a number of staff members are also in the compromisable category, and therefore more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Concerns were brought up that students would not abide by the ‘stay home’ or ‘social distancing’ requests, worries about students not having food security, CMAS testing, attendance waivers, and lack of internet connections. Each of these issues were addressed by Moore or other board members.
During the meeting, it was announced that BOCES has closed down, which would mean no Special Education services, and that many families had already contacted the district to say that their students would not be in school next week. John Mall teacher Ross Hallihan spoke of the Spring Fire, and made the analogy that as a district, we need to make a fireline now, rather than waiting until it was too late.
Director Joel Shults stated that the discussions had been factual, and informational, instead of panic driven. Director Ruth Orr made the motion to close schools from March 16 until March 29. The board would reconvene on March 27 to reevaluate the coronovirus outbreak. If things are favorable, schools will be back in session on March 30. If not, the district will remain closed until April 6. The board voted to close the district schools. Walsenburg Mayor Brian Lalander appreciated this caveat as his concern was that schools might reopen before the epidemic was over.
Huerfano Courthouse open but residents strongly urged to use drop box, emails, phone for contact
WALSENBURG — The Huerfano County Courthouse remained open for business as of early this week with various county offices working to minimize any risk of contamination to staff and the public from COVID-19. In light of the international health crisis, the board of county commissioners have cancelled their next two (March 24 – March 31) public meetings.
The board met in a sparsely attended regular session Tuesday, announcing the meeting cancellations and discussing other county response to the coronavirus, vowing to err on the side of caution.
The commissioners are strongly advising the public to use electronic or drop box facilities for all county business transactions whenever possible. The board indicated they recognize the need for some personal visits to county offices, such as the clerk and treasurer, but said even those offices are working on, or have established alternative, non face-to-face methods for conducting business.
The door to the Huerfano Treasurer and Public Trustee’s office was closed Tuesday afternoon with a note from Treasurer Debra Reynolds saying she would come into the hallway to accept payments as necessary. Down the hall at Huerfano County Clerk and Recorder Nancy Cruz’s office, a sign asks the public to wait in the hallway until they are called into the office to take care of their business. These responses will help minimize crowding in county offices.
In addition to canceling their regular meetings for the next two weeks, the commissioners are also considering a vendor/ public temperature screening checkpoint at the main entrance of the courthouse. This would entail a non-invasive temperature reading (taken off of a person’s forehead with a hand held device) and having the person seeking admission to the courthouse answer specific medical and travel questions. This policy had not been put in place as of Tuesday, March 17. The screening practice and document the county is considering adopting is along the same lines as the practice and questionniare Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center is currently using.
The board also said if any kind of emergency meeting is necessary, the appropriate legal 24-hour notification requirement will be met. Administration is currently working with the information technology department to establish an electronic meeting method that will allow for public input. Currently they are considering a video conference system from Zoom.
The board passed Resolution 20-15 this week, an emergency disaster declaration. The resolution was passed with the amendment that the seven-day resolution may be automatically updated each seven-day period for up to 28 days. The resolution was recommended by the county office of emergency management and the bi-county department of public health and will allow Huerfano County to apply for necessary federal emergency funds that may come to the state in the wake of Governor Jared Polis’ disaster declaration early in the week.
Other Huerfano County COVID-19 responses:
• Approved the purchase of a sanitizer unit for the county jail, not to exceed $4,000; suggested a preliminary notification be made to large event planners, such as Sonic Bloom, to prepare for possible suspension by state, federal or county authorities of large group gatherings. There is no way at this point to know how long safety practices necessary to combat the spread of the disease will be needed.
In other business:
• Due to the cancellation of their next two meetings, the board this week approved the county bills, approved the grant application for $200,000 to History Colorado-State Historical Fund for the phase I Fox Theatre rehabilitation project, and in conjunction with that, approved the $200,000 DOLA Energy Impact Assistance Fund (EIAF) grant application by county economic development and tourism that would, if granted, be used as matching funds for the State Historical Fund grant, if it is rewarded. The county acts as fiscal agent for these pass through funds.
• Approved a $60,000 DOLA/ EIAF grant application for construction of a Flight for Life helipad at the county community center in Gardner.
• Approved a Yellowstone-EWP Phase I (c) change order for $51,107.
• Approved the county emergency access easement agreement with the La Veta RE-2 School District to allow an emergency only egress easement through the county fairgrounds from the new school site.
• Passed Proclamation 20-01, which declares March 29 through April 4, 2020 as Census Response Week in Huerfano County.
• The board approved new hires, including Melba Zagar as the county’s new human resources director; an office administrator for the planning office, two new detention officers for the county jail and they accepted one detention officer and one deputy sheriff’s resignation.