Social distancing to mitigate COVID-19 spread |

Social distancing to mitigate COVID-19 spread

At a glance

Events or gatherings with fewer than 50 people are recommended to take the following steps to mitigate risks:

-Social distancing recommendations include limiting contact of people within six feet of each other

-Older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions that are at increased risk of serious COVID-19 are encouraged not to attend (including employees)

-Potential screenings for COVID-19 symptoms each day and exclusion from the gathering if symptomatic

-Proper hand hygiene and sanitation measures must be readily available

-Environmental cleaning guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are followed

During a news briefing Thursday afternoon, Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said she views the response to COVID-19 and efforts around mitigating its spread as a three-pronged approach:

1: Screen and test individuals who may be at risk for COVID-19 and ensure they are getting proper care.

2: Trace the “presumptively positive” cases to ensure public health and epidemiology officials understand who has interacted with whom, which also includes the cases of quarantine and isolation.

3: Move to implement social distancing processes and practices.

According to Koenemann, this third prong hasn’t been publicly discussed much yet but the local governments are moving from a containment response of COVID-19 to a community mitigation response via strategies like social distancing as more presumptive positive cases are confirmed.

“We really want to be aggressive in our social distancing practices,” Koenemann said of Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield and Summit counties specifically.

Late Thursday night, public health officials from all those counties put more aggressive social distancing practices into place, issuing a public health order that goes into effect immediately, according to news releases.

The order for Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties prohibits events with more than 50 people, defining an event as “a gathering for business, social or recreational activities,” including things such as concerts, festivals, assemblies, conventions, sporting events and fundraisers. In Summit County, all town and county-sponsored events that meet that definition have been canceled, and health officials have made recommendations to those who are hosting private events.

An event does not include restaurants, as long as eateries adhere to social distancing requirements, or activities that “are primarily individual or occur in small groups or in non-congregate settings,” like places of employment and skiing.

“These actions are the most available and effective tools to help slow the spread of the virus in our community,” a news release stated. “By slowing the spread, we have a chance to protect our family, friends and neighbors who are at risk for severe illness.”

Social distancing is described by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as a “recommended limitation of physical contact” with other people. It can be applied voluntarily by individuals or organizations, or implemented formally during a public health emergency by a specific community or region.

The department explains that social distancing can be as simple as maintaining a distance of 6 feet away from other people and not shaking hands, or more restrictive such as staying home and avoiding public spaces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes social distancing as a potential mitigation activity that can be implemented in various public settings when there is a minimal to moderate level of community transmission or impact of COVID-19, listing different social distancing measures for different settings.

Measures generally include reducing large gatherings and internal and external people-to-people mixing or interactions, and putting short-term closures in place as needed, the CDC website says.

Koenemann said public health officials are prioritizing protection of individuals at higher risk of severe or deadly cases of COVID-19, including people 60 and older and with pre-existing or chronic health conditions; and of first responders and health care workers, as they are crucial to the mitigation of and response to COVID-19.

To help protect these people and because community spread “is the next step,” Koenemann said the county is moving toward promoting social distancing and more widespread preventative guidelines instead of tracking specifics and links to individual “presumptively positive” COVID-19 cases.

“I don’t think we want to forget that everybody here, everybody in our community, can be empowered to take their own actions, and so that includes all the basics and things we’ve talked about as far as hand washing, staying home when you’re sick and what organizations can do to support their workers,” Koenemann said.

“I think we just want to be acknowledging that this is a community response at this point and everybody has a role to play from the individual to the organization to public health to first responders. I really want to get that message clear that we’re all in this together right now.”

Jill Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, expressed similar thoughts Thursday about the evolution of the state’s response to the spread of COVID-19, stating that it also is moving toward more general community mitigation.

Ryan said the department is asking the most vulnerable populations not to attend social gatherings, and that the state is focused on slowing the spread through strategies like social distancing to both avoid social disruption and keep Colorado medical systems from being overwhelmed with a high number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations all at once.

“We don’t want everybody to be sick at once. … That’s where the social distancing measures that we’re starting to see can be really effective,” Ryan said Thursday. “As we start to see spread of this disease increase exponentially across the state there will be a point where we’re not going to be able to rely on testing, people are just going to have to stay home when they’re sick.”

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