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In a whirlwind week, the coronavirus outbreak has upended the nation and, no less so, La Plata County.
In just a week’s time, Durango saw the shutdown of its vibrant restaurant and bar scene, though many places are offering takeout and delivery.
Across the county, schools, sporting events and government meetings have been canceled as people are encouraged to stay at home. People are also asked not to gather in groups larger than 10.
All the while, health officials scrambled to bring more resources to test for the virus’ presence in the community. On Friday, a drive-thru testing site at the La Plata County Fairgrounds started testing select people at risk for the virus.
There have been no confirmed cases in a five-county region of Southwest Colorado – La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, Dolores and San Juan – yet health officials say that’s because of a lack of testing. Instead, it’s believed the virus is here and spreading. As such, residents are encouraged to act and behave according to health guidelines for communities with confirmed cases.
Drive-thru testing arrives, for someSan Juan Basin Public Health on Friday opened a temporary drive-thru testing site, which will continue operations Saturday, for people who meet specific criteria, including showing signs of coronavirus.
Closed to the public, the facility is geared to test people most at risk, like health care workers, people with symptoms and those with orders from doctors, to give health officials a snapshot of where the virus is in the community.
In all, 100 tests will be conducted. Health officials allotted people one-hour time slots so everyone wouldn’t show up at once. And, with backlogs at labs, it’s expected results should be available in five to seven days.
“If we have a better snapshot as to what’s going on here, it will shift our ability to bring in the next set of resources,” Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
The facility marks the first pointed attempt to get an idea of the virus’ presence in the community, as around 30 tests at Mercy Regional Medical Center in the past week or so have found no confirmed cases.
Mercy, citing limited resources, said it is testing only hospitalized patients who show advanced symptoms of coronavirus.
“We’re learning every day new things about this because there’s not a perfect guide for what we do next when we’re dealing with a novel virus,” Jollon said.
Sweeping actions limit business, movementsThroughout the week, Gov. Jared Polis and the state health department implemented rounds of restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
It started with shutting down Colorado’s ski areas, including Purgatory Resort. It moved to closing in-person dining at restaurants and bars. Sports and other large events, even access to some parks, were canceled, too.
The state then added hair and nail salons, spas, and tattoo and massage parlors to the list. Casinos, theaters and gyms were also included, and the length of the closures was extended for weeks.
All restrictions stem one central idea in fighting the virus: limit human interaction, and therefore the spread of the virus, so as not to overwhelm health care providers.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the longer we do this, the more lives we save,” Jollon said.
It’s expected more closures and restrictions are on the way.
Businesses, employees brace for impactsAll businesses in Durango – whether closed or open – are feeling the impacts of the outbreak, said Jack Llewellyn, director of Durango’s Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber is working with other organizations to try to get insurers to help small businesses.
“That way, small businesses with insurance policies can continue to pay their employees,” he said. “A lot of our employees in our community are in the service industry, and they’ve been hit incredibly hard.”
David Woodruff, president of the Durango Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association and general manager at El Moro Spirits and Tavern, said it’s an uncertain time for restaurants and their employees.
“We’re in the same boat as everyone else, not sure what’s going to happen,” he said. “But I think everyone is trying to put forth the best face as possible right now.”
Some businesses have had to implement layoffs. And some employees have chosen to quit, not being able to pay rent or other living expenses. Tim Walsworth, director the Durango Business Improvement District, said even with takeout offerings, restaurants are operating at about 10% of normal.
“I don’t know how long that’s going to last,” he said. “And those (businesses) are the lifeblood of downtown.”
Woodruff said Durango is a resilient community, just recently powering through the 416 Fire in summer 2018. He said he expects the community to respond and rise above in the same way with the coronavirus.
“Let’s not make it harder on anybody; let’s still be nice and make each other smile,” he said. “This is just another hurdle to cross. We will come out of this better.”