Larimer County prepares for coronavirus
“Outbreak is a strong word. Spread is possible. Our job is mitigation and to protect.”
On Monday, March 9, Larimer County had its first recorded case of coronavirus. In light of the pandemic that has swept the globe, the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment has prepared for the possibility that the virus will spread. In an interview, Public Information Officer Katie O’Donnell clarified the department’s response to the situation and the hypotheticals it is planning for.
In order to prepare, O’Donnell stated, cities and municipalities are formulating their own contingencies, and collaborating to form a Continuity of Operations Plan (or COOP plan) in order to ensure all entities are on the same page. On a county level, the LCDHE actually employs, without deviation, its Pandemic Influenza Response Plan, designed for the possibility of a global health emergency caused by a strain of the flu; O’Donnell explained that, for the purpose of response, the coronavirus and influenza are quite similar. The response plan outlines, in 33 pages, the division of governmental roles and responsibilities in dealing with a pandemic, interval systems from both the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for the measurement of spread of a pandemic and the according responses, and defines various measures that may be taken.
Among these measures are isolation and quarantine—if someone is suspected or confirmed to have the virus, or has been in close contact with a person that is, the CDC recommends that this person remain home for two weeks. The Pandemic Influenza Response Plan defines the difference between these measures, in that isolation applies to those likely or confirmed to actually have the virus, whereas quarantine is the separation of those only suspected to have been exposed to it—additionally, the document clarifies that while the primary approach is to request the voluntary implementation of these measures, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment does possess the statutory authority to legally mandate them. O’Donnell provided additional insight onto the nature of this measure, describing that while citizens can, say, walk their dog, and are not strictly confined to the walls of their homes, any isolated or quarantined person cannot attend “public gatherings” for those fourteen days.
The response plan also discloses the county’s role in school closures, explaining that the LCDHE’s role is to provide guidance and advisement on measures that schools may implement to prevent spread of a virus, including preemptive school closure. However, O’Donnell clarified that, although the department and Poudre School District are in “close collaboration,” it is ultimately a school’s district’s decision whether to close schools or not, and stated school closures are “unlikely en masse,” due to the fact that children seem to be minorly impacted by the virus.
So what might coronavirus look like for the everyday life of Fort Collins citizens? O’Donnell notes that the virus is, for the most part minor, though it poses threats to those with autoimmune issues or the elderly; however, in total it is difficult to determine what impacts may ensue, and thus the best indicator of potential outcomes is to examine those in other states. “There might be impacts, we don’t know yet.”
For most of what is to come and what might play out with COVID-19 in our community, this is exactly the standing situation: we do not know. It is impossible to predict how the virus may establish itself in our county, our town, or our school. Despite this, there are still a number of measures citizens can take to prevent its spread. If nothing else, “it’s flu season,” O’Donnell stated. “When you’re sick, stay home.”