By Lisa Young
Delta County Commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of extending the COVID-19 local disaster emergency declaration until Sept. 2. This recent extension represents the sixth time the order has been protracted and the fourth time Commissioner Don Suppes has opposed the measure.
Suppes, keeping up his previous “no” votes, scorned the extension stating the county had succeeded in “flattening the curve” and “ has done what it was supposed to do.” He said the hospital has almost been bankrupted through the process, the state has not given accurate numbers and he wished to “send a message” for the government “to draw this thing back.”
Commissioner Mark Roeber agreed with Suppes on several points but disagreed on the need to continue the emergency declaration.
“I agree that this is not a state of emergency and hasn’t been from the start. We entered this because we were preparing for what not never came. But at this time, I do not feel the correct message is being sent that you’re trying to send without continuing on with the emergency declaration. The emergency declaration is our only means to keep our incident command team together, it’s our only means to our emergency manager being involved in the process and therefore, I will be supporting the motion.”
Before making the final decision, Emergency Manager Kris Stewart addressed the board on both the extension and the uptick in COVID-19 cases.
“The emergency declaration allows us to continue operating under the emergency operations plan as it relates to COVID ... the main goal and purpose for this is to allow for our unified command structure which includes the hospital, the county and health department,” said Stewart during the Aug. 5 meeting.
“Without this (declaration) it kind of ties our hands with our ability to do the unified command and puts more of the decision-making process solely on the health department ... and we want to be able to continue that (unified command),” he added.
Stewart, for the umpteenth time, reiterated that the emergency declaration “does not tie in with any of the public health orders at the state or local level” stating that extension allows the county to use emergency reserves to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), special supplies, pay for additional cleaning staff and other covid-related expenses.
Commissioner’s decision to continue the emergency declaration came on the heels of Stewart’s COVID-19 report which highlighted the steadily growing virus cases since July 23.
He told the board that, along with the rise in covid cases, the hospital has witnessed more patients displaying acute symptoms. Due to HIPPA compliance, he said the hospital was unable to give specific reasons for the more serious symptoms.
County health officials have reported an increase of 24 cases in the last two weeks bringing the total to 114. In comparison, Montrose County has added 51 cases, Mesa County 83 and Gunnison County 52 cases in the same period. Mesa and Gunnison have broken the 280 mark while Montrose is reporting 274.
In Delta County 84 cases have been lab confirmed with 30 probable. To date, 97 persons have recovered. The county has tested 3,921 persons representing 12.58% of the population with 194 tests still pending. Tests are being conducted at the Delta County Health Department, Delta County Memorial Hospital, North Fork EMS and River Valley Health.
“Our average tests conducted over the past two weeks has been 52 tests per day. We tested 75 on Monday and last Wednesday we tested 96 people. Over the same two weeks we’ve had two patients in the ICU, one in the ICU and one in the med-surg,” Stewart told commissioners.
The med-surg patient has been discharged, the ICU patient remains in ICU and one patient who was previously in the ICU has been transferred to St. Mary’s hospital in Grand Junction, according to his report. The hardest hit segment in the county has been individuals in their 30s at 22%.
Stewart’s report did not cover the recent COVID-19 outbreak at the Delta County Sheriff’s Office on July 22 and confirmed on July 29. To date, the county has not posted the incident on any of its social media pages or followed up with more information.
Stewart said the county’s unified command met on Monday and will continue weekly calls on Tuesdays. On the calls will be county administrator Robbie LeValley; Jody Roeber, chief clinical officer at DCMH; Karen O’Brien, public health director; Stewart, emergency management, and Darnell Place-Wise, public information officer.
“The health department is still working with businesses fielding complaints about masks and people not adhering to social distancing. They are also reviewing applications for new events and businesses within Delta County,” Stewart said.
He also told commissioners that the CARES Act through the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) has been approved to process reimbursements for the pandemic and the county can begin billing for expenditures later this week or next week up until December.