Variance in place despite increase in COVID-19 cases

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Jeff Kuhr

Less stringent public health orders remain in place in Mesa County for now despite an increase in positive COVID-19 cases, according to a local official.

The agency is working with state officials to maintain what’s called the “Protect Our Neighbors” phase of the variance, said Jeff Kuhr, executive director of Mesa County Public Health. “It’s not their objective to take us in and out of this.”

Kuhr discussed the latest developments in the pandemic in a Zoom meeting arranged by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

As of Oct. 5, 753 positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in Mesa County. Six of those infected were currently hospitalized. Five deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in the county since the onset of the outbreak.

At the same time, testing also has increased, Kuhr said.

As of Oct. 5, 37,732 tests had been administered in Mesa County. Out of that, 1.71 percent of the tests were positive. Over the previous two weeks, though, 2.99 percent of tests were positive.

Over the previous two weeks, 25.9 percent of positive cases were attributed to close contact with family members. Another 8.1 percent of cases were attributed to private gatherings and 8.1 percent to travel outside the county.

There were no cases attributed to people visiting a local business, Kuhr said.

What’s “concerning,” he said, is that in 38.4 percent of positive COVID-19 cases, the source of exposure was unknown. That’s an indication of continued community spread.

Over the previous two weeks, 20.5 percent of people testing positive were between the ages of 20 and 29 years. Another 17.3 percent were between 30 and 39 and 14.1 percent between 40 and 49.

Mesa County is one of five counties in Colorado operating under the “Protect Our Neighbors” phase of variances from state public health orders. Gilpin, Gunnison, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties also have met requirements to loosen restrictions.

The variance allows businesses to operate at 50 percent of capacity. If additional requirements are met, capacity can be increased 5 percent every four weeks.

The new phase of the variance increases the cap for indoor gatherings at large facilities — such as churches — from 175 up to 500 or 50 percent of capacity, Kuhr said.

There are additional exemptions to the state mask order, allowing workers in offices to remove masks while they’re seated and people in gyms to remove masks while they’re exercising, he said.

The last call at bars was pushed back from 11:30 p.m. to midnight.

Despite the increase in positive COVID-19 cases, Mesa County continues to fare better in the pandemic than other areas of Colorado, Kuhr said.