Returning to normal? El Paso County Public Health introduces phases for release

Posted at 9:55 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 00:18:12-04

EL PASO COUNTY — It's one of the most pressing questions during this pandemic: How and when will Colorado return to some sense of normalcy both personally and economically?

Like leaders across the country, El Paso County health officials are now looking into phases for release. If the stay-at-home order is lifted on April 26 by Governor Polis we could see some restrictions modified.

We're currently in Phase I. Now that we've flattened the curve, according to health officials, we still need to stay the course. However, plans are in the works to slowly get back to normal. A big thing to remember - this is only a framework, not a timeline.

Dr. Leon Kelly, deputy medical director for El Paso County Public Health Department, said, "We feel from the public health perspective that for the first time since this fight started we are winning and we are in a good place."

Kelly says there's still a challenging road ahead when it comes to the coronavirus.

"But I think we're in a place now where we can begin to have those conversations about where we go next."

First up is contact tracing which Kelly says is going to be our number one weapon to prevent further spread as restrictions are lifted.

If a person is found to have COVID-19 Kelly said, "We're going to reach out to that individual, find out who that person came into contact with. We're then going to reach out to each one of those individuals, find out whether they are symptomatic or non-symptomatic."

If symptomatic - they'll get tested and they'll be isolated. For the non-symptomatic - they'll be quarantined for 14 days.

Kelly said, "The way that we're going to do this is by building the capacity of the public health department to have enough folks trained in this so that they continue to do this."

Testing is a big component.

"We are working daily to sort out what tests are available and where people can go."

All of this, including social distancing, is part of Phase I. Phase II involves reopening certain places. The actions will be to begin a step-by-step return to normal for most activities, but still, no large crowds and reduced social distancing.

Kelly said, "Most countries that we've seen have done this so far kind of start with their schools or their least at-risk population which is our young people, opening up some of those critical businesses."

Phase III will focus on establishing protection and then lifting all restrictions.

"The reality for Phase III is you need one of a couple things. You either need effective therapeutics, meaning you have drugs, medications, that either you can use to prevent the infection."

Or, as Kelly says, something to treat it. Another option is to have a vaccine. All of these things are still in clinical trials, but when they're made available "actions are going to be, obviously, to deploy those medical interventions which is going to be a worldwide deployment and we can return to normal social gatherings," said Kelly.

As for Phase IV, it's purpose is to prepare for the next pandemic.

Kelly said, "Predict what's coming, monitor those things, have testing available when they do come out, and be able to generate and engineer vaccines and treatments at a much more rapid pace."

Another project happening right now is a public health data dashboard where people can track coronavirus cases and deaths around the world. We're told that will be launched in the next few days.

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