Montezuma County’s application for a variance from the statewide safer-at-home public health order has been denied by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
The county submitted a proposal May 4 to reopen restaurants retail stores and gyms at 40% capacity with strict measures to control the spread of COVID-19. In its application, the county cited its low caseload, high hospital capacity, geographic isolation, low population, ongoing testing operations and prevention measures. If new cases doubled within a 14-day span, the plan would be scaled back, officials said.
“There are 700 businesses in this area, and not all of them are open. We’re saying give them a chance to reopen,” said Commissioner Jim Candelaria.
But in a May 11 letter to the county, CDPHE said the threat of the virus in Montezuma County was too high to loosen state restrictions.
“Our reviewers have some concerns about vulnerabilities in Montezuma County and want to monitor the situation before further considering a variance,” wrote CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan.
When reviewing the variance request for a specific area, the state evaluates the current prevalence of COVID-19, including whether cases are increasing or decreasing.
New cases in Montezuma County have increased in the past 10 days, Ryan said.
The county has 25 confirmed cases, but 13 have recovered, so there are 12 active cases. The state lists three deaths, but the county disputes one as not COVID-related.
CDPHE said another reason for denying the variance is the high death and infection rates south of Montezuma County in New Mexico’s San Juan and McKinley counties.
Wednesday, San Juan County reported 1,203 cases and 80 deaths and McKinley County, 1,681 cases and 57 deaths.
“Should Montezuma County release restrictions, it may pull visitors from that area and cause further spread,” Ryan stated.
Additionally, the state health department reported it was aware of an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 cases within the homeless population in Montezuma County. A person who recently died in a Cortez park tested positive for the virus, although alcohol poisoning was listed as the cause of death. At least three people have been quarantined since the county health department began identifying people who might have come in contact with the person.
CDPHE is concerned that the combination of increasing local cases and high infection rates in New Mexico could stress the health care system and Southwest Memorial Hospital, according to the letter.
“Based on these concerns, the conditions are not conducive at this time for relaxing any of the Safer at Home restrictions,” the letter states.
CDPHE said if the county resubmits a plan, it will require support from the county health, Southwest Memorial Hospital and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
Special meeting on ThursdayThe Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting May 14 to discuss CDPHE’s denial of the variance application. The meeting began at 8:30 a.m. and was broadcast on the county YouTube page.