Hello to all. I receive a professional journal entitled “Governing,” and in the latest edition an article appears entitled “Be Prepared but Don’t Panic: Health Departments Respond to Coronavirus.”

This is the exact message I would like to convey to our communities in Crowley and Otero counties. A good, solid, sound understanding of the situation can help us to be “calm, cool, and collected” during times like this.

I would like to share some of the latest information with you. However, please remember that this is a fluid, quickly evolving situation, and information is subject to change at any time. In other words, please frequently look to trusted, reliable sources (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (https://www.colorado.gov/cdphe), and the Otero County Health Department (https://oterogov.com).

A recent edition of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) highlighted very interesting information from the Chinese Centers for Disease Control on the Coronavirus. A case fatality rate of 2.3 percent has been identified, which is similar to seasonal flu, and the studies reveal that most cases are mild. What does “mild” mean? According to the article, “A total of 81 percent of cases in the JAMA study were classified as mild, meaning they did not result in pneumonia or resulted in only mild pneumonia. Fourteen percent of cases were severe (marked by difficulty breathing), and 5 percent were critical (respiratory failure, organ failure, etc.).” The article goes on to reveal that the disease impacts the elderly and patients who were already critically ill the hardest, which is typical of diseases.

Local Public Health Agencies (LPHA) are very proactive about preparing for this kind of thing. Way back in July 2019 (well before Coronavirus “reared its ugly head”), LPHAs had selected pandemic planning as a goal for the next twelve months. I’m sure by now most people are familiar with the term “pandemic,” which can be defined as a worldwide epidemic. What, specifically, has the Otero County Health Department (OCHD) been doing in this regard you might well ask? We have been meeting and planning with our local and regional Health Care Coalitions (HCC), numerous medical provider offices, and the Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center (AVRMC).

Most recently we met with elected officials, our agency attorney, law enforcement officials, and the judges and staff of the 16th Judicial District. In early April, I will be meeting with the superintendents from Crowley and Otero County school districts. In addition to this, I regularly review and send out what are called Health Alert Network (HAN) messages to our medical community to keep them current on disease information. OCHD maintains an emergency supply of masks for medical providers, and we have already had to restock a medical office with masks due to the current worldwide shortage.

Now, let’s talk hypothetically, what could possibly happen in this situation or another pandemic. If things get really serious, I will order what are called Non Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPI), which involve social distancing, isolation, and quarantine. Social distancing is staying at home and not going out unless absolutely necessary. In the most extreme of cases, non-essential services will be closed, and we will not be going to school, church, and other public places for a while.

Isolation refers to a person who is sick and contagious and must stay isolated, and quarantine refers to people who have been exposed to a contagious disease, are not yet sick, but may become contagious, so they are isolated as well. If it ever gets to this to point, OCHD will communicate more specific information through multiple forms of communication.

Just how will we communicate with you? We will use our local newspapers (Fowler Tribune, La Junta Tribune-Democrat, Ordway New Era, and Rocky Ford Daily Gazette), our website (www.oterogov.com), and the local radio station (KBLJ, 1400 AM/ KTHN, 92.1 FM). So, if you don’t have a simple, AM/FM battery back-up radio, now would be a good time to invest in this inexpensive, important device. We are committed to providing important information to you as it becomes available. It is your responsibility, however, to actively seek out that information given the multiple ways highlighted above.

Please stay tuned. A huge thanks goes out to our local media (both print and radio) for continuing to be such great public health partners.

Now it comes to you, what can you do to prepare yourself and your family for emergencies? Did you notice I did not limit this to just Coronavirus? That was very deliberate on my part. You see, there are simple, inexpensive things we can do right now to prepare for Coronavirus, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, blizzards, power failures, etc. Purchase and store some commercially prepared (bottled) water, non-perishable canned/freeze dried foods, and medicines (i.e. fever/pain reducers). Also, make sure your home has smoke/fire and carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. If you have not yet signed up for Code Red (Reverse 911), this is fast, easy, and free. For Crowley County, go to the following website:

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/crowleycounty/code-red-emergency-call-out

For Otero County residents:

https://www.onsolve.com/solutions/products/codered/mobile-alert-app/codered-mobile-apps-download/

Some great emergency preparedness information can be found at Ready.Gov, and here is that website:

https://www.ready.gov/

As the article in Governing said, “Be Prepared but Don’t Panic.” Great advice. Then we can be ready for when the water does not come out of the tap, when there is a shortage of food on the store shelves, when the electricity goes out. If you would like to talk to me about Coronavirus or emergency preparedness, the direct number to my office is 719-383-3045. Due to work load, though, I may have to limit the time of the call. Sorry about that!

I’ll finish this article of Public Health Matters with the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."