How Commerce City Is Dealing With COVID Not-Quite-Outbreaks

Welcome to Commerce City.
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Dozen upon dozens of local government agencies and offices in Colorado have dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the pandemic more than eighteen months ago. But even if a municipality dodges an appearance on the outbreaks list updated weekly by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, that doesn't mean it's avoided the challenges and heartbreak that come with the disease.

Commerce City offers a prime example. An Adams County community with a population north of 50,000, Commerce City hasn't had an official COVID outbreak to date at any of its departments. But it's dealt with more than two dozen infections, including at least ten over the past two months alone — one of them fatal.

"A city employee did tragically pass away on September 22," notes community relations manager Travis Huntington. "But the city is not privy to, nor could the city reveal, the employee’s exact cause of death. Our thoughts and condolences go out to this city employee’s family."

Colorado's first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in March 2020, and within weeks, the CDPHE established a standard for viral outbreaks: two or more cases among residents, staffers or other people connected with a specific location within a fourteen-day period, or two or more cases of respiratory illness with an onset of symptoms within a fourteen-day period paired with at least one additional COVID-19 diagnosis. But beginning on June 1 of this year, these requirements have only been applied to residential health-care and correctional facilities. For all other settings, an outbreak will only be designated after five or more confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 within a fourteen-day period.

Huntington stresses that "in order to safeguard the privacy of our employees and in compliance with a number of laws, we are unable to provide detailed information concerning specific diagnoses of our employees." But he reveals that Commerce City "has been made aware of ten positive COVID cases among city staff members in the past two months across all city departments."

Huntington acknowledges that "because the city relies on employees’ self-reporting COVID diagnoses and does not require the submission of positive test results, this number is not necessarily comprehensive," and adds that "a number of other employees without confirmed COVID cases have recently quarantined either because they exhibited COVID-related symptoms or were deemed a close contact to a positive case." Moreover, he says, "The city has been made aware of a total of 29 positive COVID-19 cases among employees since the pandemic began."

Commerce City has kept the Tri-County Health Department apprised of the positive cases, but so far, says Huntington, "No city facility currently meets the definition of an outbreak site. The city continues to closely monitor the situation and report back to TCHD when an employee reports COVID-related symptoms."

Adds Huntington: "The health and safety of employees and the public has been of paramount importance for the city throughout the pandemic, and the city consistently updates policies and personnel guidance to align with CDC recommendations. Due to the recent surge of cases involving the Delta variant in the region, the city reinstated a mask requirement in all city facilities for employees and visitors as of August 16. The city has continually urged employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and offers a $20 incentive for employees to self-report receiving the COVID-19 vaccine." (Denver City Council recently approved $400 bonuses for vaccinated and exempt city employees.)

Such efforts are intended to keep Commerce City outbreak-free. But COVID's shadow still looms, just as it does for every government agency in the state.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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