County organizations prepare for COVID-19

Health care organizations across San Juan County are on high alert in anticipation of the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus.
To date, six San Juan County residents are counted by the San Juan Public Health Department as having been diagnosed with the virus, even though the actual number with the virus may be higher.
The Navajo Department of Health reports seven San Juan County residents among the 354 members of the Navajo Nation who have been diagnosed.
Two of these patients have been hospitalized elsewhere, but there are no known coronavirus patients admitted in local hospitals.
Public Health Director Kirk Benge said he has been very impressed by people’s ability to isolate and slow down the progress of the virus.
“People are doing a great job,” said Benge. “All of our public health efforts are focused on trying to slow this down. Social isolation is really a delaying tactic.”
Clayton Holt, CEO of the San Juan Health Service District, said the public health efforts have been successful.
“This is working,” said Holt. “It has given us time to prepare for a surge in patients.
“Four weeks ago, we were scrambling for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Since then, we have been able to slowly build our stock. Now I feel good that we will be able to take care of people.”
Holt reports that San Juan Hospital has set aside four rooms in a “negative pressure” area of the hospital that is physically separated from the rest of the hospital.
The negative pressure area will help the hospital minimize airborne issues. Holt added that while the hospital has ventilation capacity, he assumes that any patient needing ventilation is likely to be transferred to larger hospitals.
While local health care entities have been gearing up for the arrival of the virus, they have also been cutting back on other services.
“We have significantly reduced clinic volume and postponed anything possible at the hospital,” said Holt.
The result is a 50 percent drop in business. “We have closed elective surgeries and that impacts every part of the system, including radiology, labs, and everything else,” explained Holt.
Holt added that these developments will have a significant economic impact on the local health care systems.
He said the system will rely on reserves during the crisis and added, “There are no plans to lay anyone off at this point.”
Benge reports that of the 67 coronavirus tests that have been administered by health care entities in the county, four found the virus and six are still pending.
Two of the positive tests of local residents were taken outside the county.
The cases in San Juan County have been in the Navajo Mountain and Monument Valley areas.
The majority of local cases are related to an outbreak in northern Arizona that caused significant concern across the Navajo Nation.
In addition, Benge reports that one case may have been due to exposure when a local resident was working in the Salt Lake City area.
Another case is a local resident who contracted the virus in the Salt Lake City and is still isolated on the Wasatch Front.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has issued several emergency orders.
Navajo Nation Police issue citations and fines to people who violate the stay-at-home and 8-p.m.-to-5-a.m. curfew emergency orders.
Benge adds that while the isolation efforts have been successful in delaying the virus, he believes the majority of Americans, including people in our area, will eventually be exposed to the virus.
“For the vast majority of people,” he said. “It will be low impact.”
The number of patients who have been diagnosed with the virus is growing in the surrounding area, including the 380 patients and 15 fatalities on the Navajo Nation.
It includes 83 in San Juan County, NM (Farmington); 29 in La Plata, CO (Durango); eight in Montezuma, CO (Cortez); zero in Dolores, CO (Dove Creek); ten in San Miguel (Telluride); and 22 in Mesa, CO (Grand Junction).
One death is reported in Cortez, CO.

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