OPINION: Ignoring COVID crisis won’t make it disappear

JOANN KALENAK, DCCR SENIOR BLOGGER — As elected officials, I’m sure the current COVID crisis has been an unexpected challenge that County Commissioners were not fully prepared to take on. And who could blame them? Who would have thought that a tiny bug could wreak so much havoc and that it’s management would become so politically charged.

In the beginning, Commissioners handled the current crisis as though it was a local fire, menacing but not something that their emergency manager couldn’t handle. As things progressed worldwide, they began to relize that they had a full-blown health crisis on their hands and it was time to get serious. They formed a team and Commissioners declared Delta County a Local Disaster Emergency via resolution.

Then, they let the state of emergency expire on Sept. 2, 2020, stopped having health department updates during public meetings and limited data reports on outbreaks sites just as the stats exploded.

Although Commissioner Don Suppes voted against the declaration on two occasions, Commissioner Roeber defended it because he said it was necessary in order for the county to be eligible for COVID relief from the feds. When I asked the county why Commissioners let the declaration expire, county spokesperson Darnell Place-Wise told me, “An Emergency Declaration enables municipalities and counties to apply for funding, however the Colorado Department Homeland Security and Emergency Management advised that if Delta County did not renew the Emergency Declaration, it would not have a negative impact on CARES Act funding or the FEMA public assistance, should we opt to pursue that avenue.”

OK, I thought incredulously, but we’re still in the middle of a disaster, right? Delta County has seen a dramatic jump in positive COVID-19 cases — November saw more than 400 positive cases and projections estimate 600-to-800 will likely test positive in December. Sadly, we’ve lost 11 citizens and we’re seeing rampant nursing home outbreaks all since the expiration of their earlier declarations.

In early September, Place-Wise announced that she would report COVID stats weekly rather than daily on the county’s Facebook page and in October, Commissioner Suppes told the county’s new Director of Environmental Health, Gary Rajnowski, not to continue his education strategy concerning flu season because “people are sick of hearing about it.” And finally, in November, Commissioners stopped getting COVID-19 updates from their COVID team and Health Department staff as they had in past bi-weekly public meetings since March.

Hey, I get it. We’re all sick of this pandemic. But now is the time to declare a Local Disaster Emergency — even without the funding implications — and now is the time for complete transparency and leadership to help us all get through this crisis.

While things look bleak now and are apt to get worse, we’re seeing some light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. This is no time to give up — or give in. It’s time to double-down on your earlier work Commissioners.

I honestly can’t think of a more appropriate time.