With emergency over, COVID efforts move to next phase

Sarah Gray

After more than three years, the national public health emergency for COVID-19 is scheduled to officially end on May 11.

Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) is grateful for community support from residents and local businesses as we navigated this historic pandemic together. Our team is looking ahead to the next steps.

“We have learned a lot in the last three years about how this virus operates and how to keep it controlled,” said Jeff Kuhr, executive director of MCPH. “COVID-19 is not gone. However, we are now able to manage it in a way that’s similar to other diseases, like influenza.”

Mesa County implemented several key innovations during the pandemic. The 5-Star Program allowed businesses, including restaurants, to operate while using enhanced sanitation and safety measures. The designation promoted businesses following public health guidelines and helped people concerned about in-person interactions make decisions about where to shop. The program was pioneered in Mesa County and adopted across Colorado. The program exerted an estimated $13 million economic impact in Mesa County by allowing businesses to stay open.

Streamlined testing operations constituted another accomplishment. MCPH started its COVID-19 testing on March 5, 2020. As demand increased, the testing site moved to the Mesa County Fairgrounds. Some days, more than 600 tests were administered. The team provided about 85,000 tests before the testing site closed on March 28, 2022.

On Dec. 31, 2020, our team administered its first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Less than a month later, a mass distribution site opened at the Grand Junction Convention Center. In the beginning, our team and dozens of volunteers served almost 2,000 patients daily. The vaccine site moved back to the Community Services Campus on May 19, 2021.

As we look to the next phase, MCPH will continue to provide guidance for residents and businesses about the best ways to stay healthy. Our team monitors disease levels in our community and provides support for businesses if they experience an outbreak.

COVID-19 vaccines will remain available at the public health clinic. Insurance will likely cover the cost. Once the federally supplied vaccine stock is depleted, there will be a charge for those without insurance. Don’t let cost be a barrier, though. For families without insurance, the clinic can provide vaccinations at low cost. Mobile vaccine bus service will end on May 11.

We have a limited supply of rapid COVID-19 test kits still available for the public at the Health and Human Services Building. After May 11, you’ll be able to purchase home rapid test kits at various retailers. There is the possibility insurance will cover some of the costs.

“We are turning a page, which comes with a lot of questions and even uncertainty for some. We at Mesa County Public Health are here to support the community during this transition,” Kuhr said.

Those with questions or are looking for guidance about these changes, call (970) 248-6900 or visit the website at health.mesacounty.us. After navigating the last three years together, we’re well-equipped to move into this next phase.