COVID-19 still a concern during county’s firefight

A doubling of crises has strained the response to both the East Troublesome Fire and COVID-19 pandemic, but public health and safety remains the priority for responders to both.

The state has taken over COVID-19 management for Grand County Public Health after many of the county’s public health staff were evacuated. According to Dan Hatlestad, public information officer for the East Troublesome Fire, the public health response has been intertwined with the fire response.

“Each amplifies the concerns of the other,” he said.

Preventing the spread of COVID through fire evacuees and the responders on the front line is one of the many concerns in the response to the fire, especially as Colorado sees a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Last Friday, the state issued an order limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people from two separate households.

Grand County has seen 27 new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, as of Wednesday, for a total of 154 resident cases since the pandemic began. Two people are currently hospitalized due to the coronavirus with seven residents having been released from the hospital.

The county has hovered around the Safer at Home Level Two case rate, equal to 175 cases per 100,000 people. After seeing a big spike in COVID cases earlier this month, the county implemented mitigation strategies that seem to be working as that two-week case rate has mostly been dropping since Oct. 17.

Before the fire, there had been two outbreaks among first responder agencies in the county, Grand County Emergency Medical Services and the Grand Fire Station. Two EMS staff tested positive for COVID-19, which counts as an outbreak, while seven Grand Fire staff tested positive, according to the state’s most recent data.

Hatlestad was not aware of any new COVID-19 outbreaks among responders or evacuees since the fire.

Even during the crisis of the fire, it is important for everyone to keep COVID precautions in mind to help prevent that from happening.

“I think that the biggest concern is that we take care of each other, both those impacted by the fires and those at risk, and respect each other,” Hatlestad said.

The well-known strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are just important as ever, especially for fire evacuees and responders. Hatlestad emphasized wearing a mask, washing your hands and maintaining social distance.

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