A registered nurse openly begged the Mesa County Commissioners to make a statement telling people they need to wear masks when patronizing local businesses, maintain physical distancing and strictly avoid gatherings, to help rein in the area’s skyrocketing Covid-19 infection rate.
Benita Phillips, R.N., B.S.N., a retired Veterans Administration nurse, spoke to the commissioners in the public comment period of their Monday, 11/9 meeting (video, @ 1:02). Phillips spoke after Mesa County Public Health Department Executive Director Jeff Kuhr told commissioners about the dire situation the county faces from the ongoing uncontrolled spread of the novel Coronavirus. Dr. Kuhr told commissioners that last Saturday the county reached its highest new Covid case count in a single day: 180.
According to the Mesa County Coronavirus Data Dashboard, the two-week case count is currently 1,178, and 24 people have died from Covid. Kuhr told commissioners three more Mesa County residents had died from Covid-19 in just the last day.
“We’re looking for that to level off, but we’re just not seeing it,” he said.
Kuhr said “…we can reverse this [runaway spread of the virus] if people start to stay home as much as possible, if people wear masks in public, avoid closed in spaces, contact with others. Gatherings continue to be our tough spot: weddings, birthday parties, get together with friends. People don’t realize this, but it’s been our greatest source of infections so far. It’s so widespread that it’s infiltrated nursing homes, shelters, the jail.”
Kuhr told commissioners that the county is losing the fight against the virus because the community is failing to follow public health recommendations. He said,
“We just can’t get ahead of this thing with what we’re doing. It’s a plea to the community. I got a call saying noncompliance with wearing masks in retail stores is a problem.”
Phillips spoke during the public comment period of the meeting, saying her nursing friends are telling her they are “scared to death” of what is going on in the county.
Phillips told the commissioners,
“I have been receiving multiple calls from nurses in all the facilities, including nursing homes, from nurses that are scared to death.
Jeff [Kuhr] talked about the positivity rate being 7%. The highest positivity rate we ever wanted to get to was 6%. We’re WAY over that now. The stuff that happens from Halloween won’t be here for another week and half. I think this commission needs to make definitive statement to the public about wearing a mask.”
Phillips said she had been staying home as much as possible but ventured out to get something at Lowes Hardware Store.
“I was one of the few people wearing a mask at Lowes,” she said.
Phillips pointed out to the commissioners that there is a limited number of trained nurses on the western slope, saying “The western slope has a very finite number of nurses.”
Health care workers have been dying from Covid-19 at unprecedented rates. The International Council of Nurses estimates over 20,000 health care workers have died from Covid-19 worldwide.
“To have all these nursing friends calling and telling me they have a problem with people coming into their facilities not wearing masks,” Phillips said. “…Please, please you guys need to make a definitive statement about wearing masks. If we don’t, we’re going to run out of nurses,” Phillips told the commissioners. “We cannot wait. Please, please I beg you. Make a definitive statement about wearing masks. We MUST wear masks. We MUST social distance. We have people here who are not social distancing even in this room. We cannot wait.”
Commissioner McInnis passes the buck
County Commissioner Scott McInnis seized the opportunity to pass the buck, replying to Phillips’ by email later by telling Phillips simply that “We are doing that through the Mesa County Department of Health and our Executive Director Dr. Kuhr. Your input was appreciated at the meeting as it is here. Respectfully, Scott McInnis.”
But the County Commission is completely missing the point.
Jeff Kuhr’s “pull” only goes so far. He is not an elected official. Kuhr has been telling the public for months to mask up, wash hands frequently, avoid crowds and gatherings, socially distance, etc. Despite his efforts, there remains a tremendous amount of non-compliance with behavioral recommendations that are the only means available to rein in the virus in our community.
Elected officials’ silence is failing local businesses.
Local businesses have been struggling to stay open through the pandemic. Many have failed, and more are circling the drain.
As Mesa County’s public health status deteriorates, local elected officials have failed completely to use their authority to make clear public statements reinforcing the need for all area citizens to mask up and follow the distancing and socializing protocols that are the only methods available to control the virus. There will be no help for businesses unless the county gets control of the virus.
How bad is it?
The situation is SO dire that even far right wing Republican Tea Party Grand Junction Chamber CEO Diane Schwenke — a woman who has never seen a single, batsh*t crazy far right wing policy position she wouldn’t endorse — has said publicly,
“[Local businesses] have worked really hard to stay open. They’re your friends and neighbors. They need you to wear your damn mask and do the right thing. They could lose their business.”
I never thought I’d see the day when Diane Schwenke would be the only prominent person in our community to do the right thing. Never.
But she’s not an elected official.
Maybe she’d be willing to meet with the commissioners and impress upon them the desperate need for them use their authority to encourage the behavioral changes needed in order for our community to have any hope of containing the virus.
But don’t hold your breath.
Until something changes, citizens can only watch helplessly as the Mesa County Commissioners, through their silence and passiveness, help tank local businesses by utterly failing to say publicly what Diane Schwenke has said: “Wear your damn masks!”