Guest commentary: For the health of our community
As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I also feel the frustration and pain felt across the entire community.
For some, following masking, social distancing, hygiene and vaccine guidelines is more than a matter of extreme inconvenience. It’s a matter of life and death. We know it has been devastating to the seniors and immune-compromised citizens who have locked themselves away from society and civilization, with the ever-present fear of sickness and even death on a respirator, isolated from loved ones.
I personally know the grief on the face of yet another friend who lost a relative to COVID days ago, and I hear her story, including her anger and tears for the loved one who refused to believe the virus was worth taking seriously.
I mourn with my associate who called in distress to tell me about the military veteran who died in the hospital unnecessarily and only for lack of understanding about the lethality of the virus and disregard for simple measures that may have saved his life.
These are only two examples of the realities our community, our medical professionals and our citizen volunteer Board of Health have to consider, going on for over two years. Yes, this is very hard. It must be terribly difficult for a parent of small children to meet the demands placed upon them to protect their family and loved ones from the ongoing, confusing and ever-changing conditions of the pandemic. Everyone agrees that quarantine, masking and uncertainty is hard. Yet it remains necessary for the time being.
Pitkin County has been focused on protecting everyone, including the most vulnerable in our resort economy, which arguably has the largest and most diverse visitor population in Colorado. There is a reason COVID-19 first appeared in Aspen. We have a constant stream of locals who travel, and national and international tourists. Having the second busiest airport in the state during peak season and thousands of visitors arriving weekly, we continue to see arrivals from all points on the globe and from all regions of the United States. Yet, Pitkin County has the lowest mortality rate by a factor of 10, compared to neighboring communities that have had more relaxed attitudes about COVID-19. Contrast that with the high incidence rate and you can reflect on our community’s success at saving lives despite the ubiquity of the virus. If you have remained untouched by the virus in a significant way, consider yourself very fortunate.
Thankfully, it appears the omicron surge has peaked, and I am told by our public health experts and medical advisors that we should continue to see declining incidence rates. If the decline continues, we can expect to see some relaxation of the important, albeit complicated mitigation measures from the CDC and the Colorado Department of Public Health. The Pitkin County Board of Health, under the advice of our medical advisors and Public Health director, will consider the current orders as the emerging science and data trends allow. This situation has been difficult for everyone, and the entire community should be acknowledged for the sacrifices made.
Pitkin County and our partners strive to make sure our hospital and medical system can keep up, while keeping in-person school and people’s livelihoods in play. We have layered mitigation measures to slow spread and prevent serious illness, with vaccines for those who can get them, masking (especially for populations that can’t get vaccinated, like children) and isolation and quarantine to slow the spread. These mitigation measures have affected different segments of our community differently, but together they have protected our health-care system and led to one of the lowest death rates in the nation, despite high incidence rates and volumes of visitors.
The Board of Health is made up of medical and mental health professionals, elected officials, and regular citizens who volunteer a high degree of expertise and time. And they do it respectfully and compassionately. The board members also happen to be mothers of young children, seniors, grandparents, immune- or respiratory-compromised, social workers and business owners. We invite, receive and consider public comment primarily through written communication in advance of meetings, so the content can be disseminated, read, and understood by each member. We occasionally invite topical experts and public commenters to participate in our meetings, but it is not a requirement by state statute. While we look forward to welcoming public comment at future meetings (as we have in the past,) the board does not hear spoken public comment at every meeting. When we next invite public comment, we will hear from a variety of community members who have powerful stories to tell. I look forward to these important, respectful and compassionate listening sessions.
Every Board of Health meeting is open to the listening public and news media. We have had as many as 1,500 people join the meeting on Zoom. We invite public comment to PitkinCounty.com/bohpubliccomment.
For public comments to the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners, the published agendas include a number to call at regular meetings on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month just after noon. Write to the BOCC at BOCC@Pitkincounty.com.
I want to express my deep appreciation to our Board of Health and Public Health Department for their service throughout the pandemic, and to my community for the sacrifices you all continue to make.
Greg Poschman chairs the Piktin County Board of Health and is also a county commissioner.