Woodland Park, Divide and Florissant Remain Hotbeds for Local COVID-19 Activity
~ by Trevor Phipps ~
Teller County is still awaiting further word from state health officials regarding the status of its variance bids, giving the area relief from the coronavirus restrictions and allowing nearly all business to remain open.
At issue is whether the capacity level of business facilities may get reduced or if public gathering numbers must be lowered; or at a worse-case scenario, if certain businesses would get shut down.
On July 24, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) sent a letter to the Teller County Public Health Department, saying that the amount of new cases of COVID-19 was too high and that the increases could cause a change to the variances, currently approved for the county.
The state also didn’t want to see any new cases extend beyond 12 for a two-week period, an amount that the county has already exceeded.
Shortly after receiving the letter, county officials sent back a detailed rebuttal describing where the cases in the county were coming from and outlining the steps the county was taking to slow the spread of the pandemic. while keeping local businesses open.
As of press time, the county had still not received a response back from CDPHE. As a result, the county continues to have all businesses open except bars that do not serve food. Under the variance approval, if the county is not able to keep the number of counts low enough, the state could alter the variances or remove them altogether, which could force the closure of certain businesses.
Under the variance approval process that was granted by the state, Cripple Creek casinos are now allowed to operate with certain restrictions, such as operating at a maximum capacity level of 175 people, and abiding by strict safety regulations. Also, no table games are permitted. But this variance could change, since the county has seen a number of new cases. However, none of these have been traced to casinos or the Cripple Creek/Victor area. This fact was emphasized by Cripple Creek officials during last week’s council meeting (see related story).
According to the state’s variance approval letter, if the county exceeds the number of allowed cases then the county has two weeks to get the numbers back down before taking any actions. If the measures the county puts in place do not reduce new case counts, then state officials can change the variance by reducing the allowed capacity inside a building or casino to 100 or 50 people. So far, the state has not notified the county of any variance changes.
However, many local leaders fear that changes could come soon due to the recent increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19. At the end of last week, Teller County recorded a total 123 cases and three deaths giving the county a number of 490 cases per 100,000 people. The county’s COVID-19 case load has spiked by 195 percent since early July, according to officials.
Surge of New Cases Attributed to Several Outbreaks
In the letter written by the county health department sent to CDPHE, Teller officials attributed the new increase in cases to an outbreak that took place at Charis Bible College and the fact that the county has increased its testing. According to state outbreak data, the summer family bible conference hosted by Andrew Wommack Ministries at Charis Bible College contributed to a total of 18, including a dozen employees.
Another outbreak yielded two cases at a daycare facility that county officials say was caused by a staff member attending the family bible conference. The city of Woodland Park was also listed as an outbreak because two staff members tested positive for the disease and two more workers were considered probable because they were in close quarters with the two that tested positive.
As far as testing goes, stations have been set up across the county and are administering more tests now than they ever have been before. On the Tellercovid.com website, the full calendar of where testing will occur is posted. Testing for COVID-19 is available five days a week at various locations around the county including the Woodland Park Middle School, the Florissant Fire Station 1, the Cripple Creek-Victor Elementary School, and the public health building in Divide.
The county also stated in the letter that it is well prepared to handle an increase in cases. The county has stocked up on ample Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) supplies for first responders and there is still a surge hospital that can hold over 100 patients ready to be implemented if needed.
Jurisdictional data released last week also hints to the fact that most of the cases are not as a result of the casinos being open. As of August 4, the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor had only seen a total of 10 cases combined.
In fact, the data shows that the cases are actually coming from every other part of the county and not from the southern Teller region where gaming is legal. To date, Woodland Park has seen a total of 70 cases or 57% of the county’s total. Divide and Florissant have also seen more cases than Cripple Creek or Victor as Divide has recorded 20 cases and Florissant has had the second-most in the county with 23 cases or 19% of the total.
Statewide numbers of confirmed cases are steadily increasing but not as high as other hot spot states. As of last week, the state had seen nearly 50,000 cases in total and over 1,700 deaths due to the disease have been reported. Statewide, nearly 60,000 people have been tested and the state has listed over 500 locations as sites of outbreaks.
Last Friday, it was announced that the state had won an award for having one of the best government websites over the past two years. “Millions of Coloradans have visited this website to obtain critical information to protect themselves and prepare for outbreaks of COVID-19, get support when they are sick, and follow public health orders and guidelines that reduce the spread of the virus,” a press release on the state’s COVID-19 website said. “The website, developed in partnership with Colorado Interactive, won a “Gold” Hermes Creative Award for the government websites category.”
Real time information about local cases and testing information can be found on the county’s website at Tellercovid.com and statewide information can be accessed at covid19.colorado.gov.