RN literally begs Mesa County Commissioners to urge public to wear masks, distance, avoid gatherings

Benita Phillips, R.N., B.S.N. begged Mesa County Commissioners on 11/9 to make a definitive public statement urging the public to wear masks, avoid gatherings and strictly follow other public health protocol to help rein in the rapid spread of the novel Coronavirus in our community

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.”

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke — the community’s MOST unlikely hero — has said what our elected officials have so far refused to say, but need to: “Wear a damn mask.”

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!”

Commissioners Scott McInnis, Rose Pugliese and John Justman just can’t be bothered to do the right thing.


  12 comments for “RN literally begs Mesa County Commissioners to urge public to wear masks, distance, avoid gatherings

  1. Until the church starts preaching for people to wear masks, the sinning tithers are waiting to die anyways to go meet jesus. That’s the root of the thinking which results in the behavior and is the problem: Jesus.

  2. Why would a definitive public statement make any difference at this point? The problem is there is no enforcement. We as the general public, business employers and employees should not be expected to try to enforce these mandates, especially given how irrational and violent anti-maskers and their ilk have proven to be. Until people are getting fined and thrown in jail for being arrogant, lazy, entitled plague spreaders, they’re going to go right on doing whatever the hell they want and anyone who gets sick and dies because of them get ThoUGhTS aNd pRAyERz.

  3. I don’t know who is in charge of our county as far as getting a grip on covid. But you should be ashamed of yourselves, my grandson was expose to a girl who tested positive last week, in school. WE WERE NOT NOTIFIED UNTIL TODAY AND HE IS HIGH RISK! And has to stay home for a week while he walked around for a week not knowing. Well guess what I am his grandmother and I would not make it through it.

  4. Yes! Please enforce mask wearing and social distancing. This is not a political situation but a health crisis!

  5. Thanks to Ms. Phillips, Mr. Kuhr, and (surprise!)Ms. Schwenke for stating clearly that our community must follow Colorado and CDC guidelines in order to save lives.

    • Jeff Kuhr is a Johnny Come Lately. The county did next to nothing in the spring, and we just got lucky. Now, after 7 months of a lack of leadership, he is concerned enough to go public. He helped Dr. Bill Hilty, and the Commissioners paint a falsely optimistic picture, for short term profits, instead of preparing. We are still not prepared for when typical influenza sweeps through the valley, too.

  6. I, too, was shocked to hear Diane Schwenke publicly support the wearing of masks. But then, her business is small businesses so….
    My heart breaks for the health care providers and the blatant disregard for their lives (and mine) when people cannot follow the basic guidelines for combatting this virus. The commissioners lack of support is extremely disappointing but not surprising for this area, as we all know. Most people probably don’t even know who Jeff Kuhr is.

  7. Maybe a joint press conference of elected officials – Fruita, Palisade, GJ, Mesa County, School Board (?) to convey Benita’s message would help?

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