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San Juan County, Colo., ranks ‘very high’ for COVID-19, issues mask mandate

Community reports 62% increase in cases this month
The town of Silverton, 50 miles north of Durrango in the San Juan Mountains. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Beginning Friday, visitors and residents in San Juan County, Colorado, will be required to wear face masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

The county has maintained low case numbers throughout the pandemic; however, new cases have surged among unvaccinated people since the beginning of August. In response, the board of county commissioners unanimously approved a mask mandate Wednesday.

“We ask our community to be flexible during this outbreak and be a part of the solution to stop the spread,” said Becky Joyce, director of San Juan County Public Health, in a news release.

Face masks will be required for indoor public spaces throughout San Juan County, including Silverton. The order is scheduled to expire Sept. 10.

Masks are not required to be worn outdoors or at outdoor events, and no occupancy regulations or any other business restrictions are in place, the news release said.

San Juan County issued a mask order this week after reporting a 62% increase in the number of COVID-19 cases so far this month. (Courtesy of San Juan County)

The county reported a total of 47 COVID-19 cases from the start of the pandemic until Aug. 3. As of Wednesday, there were 76 cases, a 62% increase.

The level of spread in the county over the last week is ranked as “very high” by the state, the most severe of four categories, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The viral spread started within the population of seasonal and/or part-time, unvaccinated community residents, but the exact source of the community spread is unknown, said DeAnne Gallegos, San Juan County spokeswoman.

The county became aware of the issue when people began to arrive at the hospital with COVID-19, she said.

On Aug. 5, San Juan County issued a COVID-19 alert, saying there was high community spread countywide. The same day, an outbreak of four cases among staff members at the Silverton Lakes RV Resort was confirmed by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

San Juan County has issued a Declaration of Disaster, the news release said. It offered a free mass testing event from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday.

The town of Silverton also canceled its Summer Sounds Concert event on Aug. 20 in response to the high COVID-19 transmission.

“If this had been a year ago, we would have been sheltering in place and pretty much closed down,” Gallegos said. “The fact that they are only issuing a 30-day indoor mandate shows the success of how far we have come.”

Gallegos urged community members and visitors to be flexible team players during the mandate and to wear masks.

Vaccinations are the best defense against COVID-19, the news release said.

“We have come a long way in this pandemic, but by no means is it over yet and we still have a way to go,” Joyce said. “Part of our success last summer was the mask mandate, and it is a necessary decision to stop the current COVID-19 outbreak happening communitywide here in Silverton and San Juan County.”

Resources for COVID-19 tests include:

  • On-site testing is available from 9 a.m. to noon Monday to Friday. Call San Juan County Public Health at (970) 387-0242 to set up a free test.
  • BinaxNOW “at-home” COVID-19 test kits are available for free. Call SJCPH at the same number to get an at-home test kit.

San Juan County Public Health also offers three vaccines Monday to Friday. People can call SJCPH to make an appointment.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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