The Jefferson County Health Board is considering whether or not to cap the number of attendees at events that require the submission of a health plan.
Health plans became a state requirement earlier this year for events of more than 50 people due to COVID-19. Those hosting events, be it a wedding, rodeo or festival, have to submit a plan outlining the protocols to be used to prevent the spread of the virus to the Jefferson County Public Health Department for review and approval by the health officer.
The initative comes as the county is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. See story on page 9.
The proposal was discussed at the Sept. 22 Health Board meeting and the suggested cap was 150-175 participants. The Board will decide on the cap at its October meeting.
Interim Health Officer Sandy Sacry said she’s received 17 plans since she took over the job on Sept. 1. Of those, only one was not approved.
The denial went to an event hosted by an out-of-county group that wanted to put on a fair estimated to bring in 600 people, she said.
“I felt it was too many people,” said Sacry, adding that the state has suggested that preference be given to schools and
students hosting events.
Also, “we [the public health department] don’t have the resources if there was a surge,” she said.
As she spoke that evening, the department had received notice of two new active cases right before the meeting began.
Due to the strain on the public health department, it has hired five temporary nurses, with three of those doing contact tracing and the other two on stand-by if needed, said Public Health Supervisor Pam Hanna.
The department has also exhausted its overtime budget, having logged 200-plus hours since July, when the county experienced its first surge, said Hanna.
The idea for a cap on events comes from Lewis and Clark County, which put a cap of 250 attendees at events, according to Sacry.
The cap in Jefferson County would not include school events, she said.
Sacry said there are a few events coming up that could have more than 250 people, such as the Christmas Stroll in Whitehall.
Then there’s the holiday season, and despite the pandemic, people are still submitting health plans for parties and other events, she said.
Health Board member Dr. Jennifer Dodge said Lewis and Clark County chose 250 as a cap based on the staff available to do contract tracing for an event that results in infections.
In addition to staff availability to deal with case loads, Lewis and Clark County also indicated that capping events would reduce the risk of super-spreader events and allow enough room for social distancing, according to the county’s Department of Public Health.
“Ultimately, if we can generally avoid large gatherings, and implement a cap of 250 individuals when gatherings do occur, we believe that our case/contact workload will remain in check and our nursing staff, including surge capacity, will be able to effectively manage all case isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine of contacts. If we experience a large outbreak associated with a large gathering or event then there is a real possibility that we could lose control of the situation leading to widespread community transmission and resulting local disease and death. Such a scenario would be unacceptable and may result in a need to revert to Phase One locally,” said Lewis and Clark County Health Officer Drenda Niemann in an email to the Monitor.
Hanna said that prior to school opening, a single case would typically involve tracing three to four close contacts, but that has since jumped to seven per case.
Hanna has stated previously that it takes about five hours for one nurse to work a single COVID-19 case from start to finish.
The Board decided to put the issue on its October meeting agenda.
Meanwhile, the health plan for Boulder’s Fright Nights have been approved, said Jefferson County Events Coordinator Bruce Binkowskil
Health Board Chairperson Christina Binkowski said there wasn’t a formal appeals process in place as health plans, which were put in place in June, have not yet had time for legal precedence to be established. However, the Board is willing to meet with organizers and discuss any health plans that are experiencing difficulty.