Counting Covid

The state loves its symbols but not its keys: yellow arrows mean “in mitigation” and red octagons means “stricter public health measures enforced.” For the moment, Gunnison has neither.

There’s a lot of talk about “bubbles” these days, often in reference to covid, but it turns out I was living in a little bubble all my own, completely unaware.

As a general way-of-life statement, my bubble isn’t huge, really, although it’s substantially larger than it seems once you stop to consider the multipliers. It feels small, because I go to work with the same six people and come home to the same one person, and conduct very few interactions with anyone else other than virtually.

But then I stop to think, and each of my six co-workers has their own bubble. One’s in-laws, even though they have first-hand experience with covid, are extremely cavalier about virus protection, and I think everyone in the shop has visited more family than I have. Many have conducted day and weekend trips.

And then there’s Lynn, who puts in appearances at three different post offices. She came back from Crested Butte yesterday to report that her co-workers only felt it necessary to wear a mask when they interacted with the public, pulling them back down once they left the counter. When I told her she needed to tell them she wasn’t going up there anymore, she said that’s what they do in Gunnison as well.

So my bubble is really as big as all of Gunnison County, and beyond, since we have customers coming into Pat’s from all over. We seem to be one of the very few places on Main Street to wear our masks all day every day, and we require them of customers as well, but none of this is really an argument for complacency.

Which is really where my bubble was: at complacency. I’ve been wandering along, feeling very fortunate to live in a county where the counts have been negligible for the better parts of two months, despite the abundance of masklessness I keep witnessing (although people seem to be wearing them at the big stores).

But that’s the problem with complacency: it will get you, every time.

Just yesterday morning Vann and I were discussing the possibility that people might be coming to Gunnison County as a respite from their own covid-infested home base — but as we were speaking, it turned out that we might be one of those infested places as well.

I thought I was keeping up on the county’s coronameter, but when I wasn’t looking we logged several new positives: another day with 5, then consecutive days of 4, 4 and 6. There’s been one positive since, but most of the tests administered since Oct. 24 are still pending, so we could have many more.

The state just awhile back implemented its own coronameter, which they have named something far more prosaic (one might say dull), and Gunnison was one of five counties in the most lenient category of “Protect Our Neighbors.” Another of the five was Mesa County, home to Grand Junction, but it recently reverted to the more restrictive “Safer at Home” status due to an increase in cases.

The state uses three metrics to determine which county goes where, and one of those is cases per 100,000. This is a figure that doesn’t necessarily work great in a large number of Colorado’s rural counties. All 36,000 square miles of Gunnison County, for instance, holds roughly 17,000 people. So each positive become nearly six in the corona count.

To be in Protect Our Neighbors, we are supposed to have fewer than 25 per 100,000 on a seven-day average. Four, four and six in just three days — which the state may count as one day, because it marks the positives on the day the results return, rather than the day the tests were administered, which is what Gunnison County counts — puts us at something like 52.

Which seems highly alarming, perhaps more alarming than it should, although 14 in three days is nothing to sneeze at. Nothing is nothing to sneeze at these days, when a public sneeze can get you shunned.

So while Vann and I were discussing how people might want to come to covid-free Gunnison, the city clerk was busy sending out an e-mail letter from the county warning that we’re on the cusp of losing our lenient status and reiterating the requirements for businesses.

Some of them just aren’t realistic. Bathrooms are not going to get cleaned every hour. I have my doubts that county restrooms are cleaned with anywhere near that frequency. I do wipe down two restrooms every night before I leave work, dutifully noting this in the logs I am keeping, but I long ago determined these are hardly the most-touched surfaces in our workspace. (I wipe those down too.)

People aren’t going to wash their hands every half-hour, either. I feel as though if I did that, my hands would look like SpongeBob’s when he exuberantly washed his clear out of existence for a training video.

But mask-wearing . . . it just shouldn’t be this hard. Vann found a thing online awhile back that made us laugh: Masks are the new bras. They don’t fit well; they’re uncomfortable; you only wear them out in public; and everyone notices when you don’t.

My sister forwarded a video sent out by her boss, the school superintendent, who was hoping it would get a lot of air time in the classrooms. I watched it and figured it’s yet another piece wasted on the people who ought to heed it the most, but maybe if we all keep trying and don’t live in South Dakota, where the per-100,000 daily count is 115 and where the percent of positive rates on covid tests administered is an astounding 46 percent (Gunnison’s rate is under 5 percent), then maybe we’ll make some headway.

Under Gunnison’s own coronameter, back in July, we started sliding backward and it seemed as though everyone got diligent about doing what it took to ensure that we stayed clear.

That math seems as basic to me as 2+2=4: you wear masks + don’t go running around in groups + practice reasonable hand hygiene = staying healthy. I still just don’t get why this is so hard for people who think I’m making a political statement. It’s a health statement, and when you try to use “alternative facts,” you find yourself in South Dakota. Or Wisconsin (76 per 100,000), where the health system is at a breaking point and still the Republican legislature overrides the Democratic governor on every health measure he tries to implement.

All things considered, I’d rather be here.

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