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Colorado COVID-19 Update: Grappling With Communication Challenges

St. Anne's Episcopal School in Denver will be closed today and tomorrow after a parent tested positive for the coronavirus.
St. Anne's Episcopal School in Denver will be closed today and tomorrow after a parent tested positive for the coronavirus.

Days after Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced Colorado's first pair of presumptive COVID-19 cases amid the nationwide spread of a newly discovered coronavirus technically known as SARS-CoV-2, officials are already learning how difficult it will be to speak with one voice about the extraordinarily fluid situation.

Institutions impacted by the malady are handling communication in wildly different ways, as exemplified by the contrast between the tacks taken by St. Anne's Episcopal School, which will be closed today and tomorrow, March 9 and 10, following word that the parent of a student has tested positive for the virus, and East High School, where crews spent the weekend doing a deep cleaning after learning that an affiliated family had been in contact with one of the people testing positive. Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was reminded over the weekend that its best intentions can have unforeseen consequences.

St. Anne's is a private school accustomed to working within a tightly knit community — and administrators are continuing to keep communications close regarding coronavirus. The closure announcement on its website is only accessible to those with access to its so-called parent portal, and it hasn't been shared on the school's Facebook or Twitter pages, which make no mention of the closure at all. (The St. Anne's Facebook page's most recent item involves experiments in eighth-grade science classes, and tweets are listed as protected.)

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That's not to suggest that the school is being irresponsible; far from it, in fact. The parent hadn't visited the campus for a month, but St. Anne administrators reportedly chose to cancel classes today and tomorrow out of an abundance of caution. Their message to parents notes, "We made the decision to close and dismiss students early [Friday, March 6] so we could thoroughly disinfect all buildings and surfaces before school reopens."

East officials went the other direction, releasing a letter under the signature of principal John Youngquist that is as transparent as possible under the circumstances.

As for the CDPHE, the agency sent out an email blast at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 8, noting that no additional presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 had been identified in Colorado that day (44 tests were conducted) and updating the overall stats. The eight cases of COVID-19 in the state identified to date break down as follows:

Denver County:

One case in a man in his 40s. The investigation is ongoing.

One case in a woman in her 70s, exposed during international travel.

Douglas County:

One case in a school-aged female, exposed during international travel.

One case in a woman in her 40s, exposed during international travel.

One case in a woman in her 70s, exposed during international travel.

Eagle County:

One case in a woman in her 50s, exposed during international travel.

El Paso County:

One case in a man in his 40s. The investigation is ongoing.

Summit County:

One case in a man in his 30s, an out-of-state resident who was exposed during international travel or through contact with an out-of-state case.

East High School was deep-cleaned over the weekend.
East High School was deep-cleaned over the weekend.
YouTube file photo

In addition, the agency confirmed, "We are aware of a confirmed COVID-19 case in Australia with ties to the Aspen community. One woman in her 20s who was visiting Aspen returned home to Australia earlier this week, where she tested positive for COVID-19. The individual had contact with Aspen residents and visitors at social gatherings; some of the people who had contact with the woman have reported experiencing respiratory symptoms. CDPHE and Pitkin County Public Health are reaching out to people who were known to have been in contact with the Australian patient during her Aspen visit. Pitkin County Public Health and CDPHE are working on a plan to get symptomatic people tested. CDPHE and the State Emergency Operations Center are monitoring this issue and working closely with local health and safety agencies to support their needs."

Following this information, the release offered a telephone number for folks to call if they live in Aspen and are "experiencing symptoms of COVID-19."

Just over two hours later, the CDPHE sent out a "correction" to this last suggestion: "To avoid overwhelming hospital staff, please do not distribute the Aspen Valley Hospital phone number included earlier in today's press release. People experiencing mild suspected COVID-19 symptoms should call their primary care physician."

Expect more communications bumps like this one to happen before COVID-19 runs its course in Colorado and beyond.

Meanwhile, here's the full East High School release.

Dear East Families:

Last night at around 7 p.m., we received notification from one of our families that they had been in contact with one of the people in Colorado who has tested presumptive positive for the Coronavirus (COVID-19). This family has two students who attend East.

After consulting their family physician, the family has told us that they are following the CDC guidelines and are self-quarantining their two students for the next 7-14 days, as a precaution. The family said that, during that time, students will not be attending any classes or events at East High School. The family has shared that both students are healthy and are not showing any symptoms of the virus.

I want to emphasize that no East students or staff at this time have tested positive for COVID-19. This family contacted us because the person who has tested presumptive positive had visited their home recently, and they felt it was important to share this information in order to ensure we are taking any necessary precautions with the best information we can. And we are grateful to the family for sharing this information with us.

We have notified DPS leadership in order to ensure we’re taking the right steps to keep our community informed and healthy. The district then contacted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to share information and get guidance.

As the students have shown no symptoms of the virus, health officials have advised that all school activities can continue as scheduled and there is low risk of the virus spreading. Health officials have advised us to ensure the entire campus gets a deep and thorough cleaning, which is happening right now at our school, with special and extra steps taken to disinfect the auditorium for tonight’s drama production.

We also want to urge strongly that we are continuing to take the important COVID-19 health precautions shared by the CDC and our medical experts:

• Stay home when you are sick, and keep your children at home when they are sick.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Additional information on COVID-19 is available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as well as the DPS website.

Thank you for your support and your continued cooperation in taking the necessary precautions to keep our campus healthy and safe. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

John Youngquist

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