Larimer County is no stranger to disasters.
In the last decade, we have faced the two worst natural disasters in the county’s history with the 2012 High Park Fire and the 2013 floods.
Now we face a new and different challenge, an unseen enemy, COVID-19. While previous events were of relatively short durations and then over, the virus continues to plague us even as we work to recover and keep life going.
Much of what we learned from past disasters has been helpful. We know recovery is more productive when we work together. We’ve partnered with United Way to bring on Laura Levy as our recovery manager, a position she held in past disasters.
The key to our recovery efforts is the collaboration with groups already in our community, such as businesses, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, city partners, schools and higher education, and community volunteers. Key sector groups have been set up and staffed to help coordinate efforts in this effort we call the Larimer County Collaborative. Funds can be stretched, leveraged and allocated to the most effective ways of helping the community.
Even before the collaborative was set up, Larimer County went to work assisting businesses to access support programs and employee access to benefits. Another significant concern for Larimer County government is the mental health of our residents. The stress of losing a job, unpaid bills and the fear of a pandemic takes a heavy toll on the mental health of all of us.
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Crisis response handled the initial call demand well, but many could not access or afford services. Thanks to our Behavioral Health Initiative passed by the voters in 2018, the commissioners allocated $115,000 of that sales tax money to a COVID Crisis Response Fund for immediate help to nine groups providing services throughout the county.
The Larimer County Department of Public Health was able to obtain a variance to state regulations that enable us to develop guidelines and strategies specific to our county that keep our community safe, our hospitals from being overwhelmed, allowed businesses to open earlier than the state as a whole, and some events to begin again.
Critical to keeping our variance is staying below several key indicators, which can be found on the health department website. As things open up, some indicators have increased, as we knew they would. We find ourselves now in danger of losing our variance, which would hamper recovery efforts, and we have submitted a plan to remain safe.
The key to this plan is three things you can do. One, wear a face covering. Masks are uncomfortable and disliked, but they do help reduce the spread of droplets. Two, practice social distancing. Keeping 6 feet from others greatly reduces the chance of spread. And finally, wash your hands frequently.
Under our variance guidelines, many of our businesses have found very creative ways to serve you safely. If you can, given your health status, support them. Supporting each other keeps the recovery going and our community safe, healthy and living as normally as possible under these circumstances.
Steve Johnson is a Larimer County commissioner representing all of Larimer County.
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