Frontline staff self-quarantine forces Walsenburg City Hall closure

Hurfano County COVID-19 cases rise to 19, with 12 new cases in eight days

by Mark Craddock

(Updated 9/24 to reflect new local case numbers and status of city hall opening)

WALSENBURG — Walsenburg City Hall was closed Monday, after two utility billing clerks chose to self-quarantine in the wake of a positive COVID-19 test of a fellow employee late last week.

City hall reopened Thursday, Sept. 24.

The man is the husband of a First National Bank of Trinidad, Huerfano County Branch employee, who tested positive for COVID-19, forcing a two-day closure of the branch September 15.

There have been four new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Huerfano County in the past week, including the city employee, and one new case reported in Las Animas County.

On Wednesday night, Sept. 22, the local health department announced four new COVID-19 cases in one day, two each in Huerfano and Ls Animas counties.

That brings the total number of cases to 19 in Huerfano County and 24 in Las Animas County. Colfax County, NM, has seen 29 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Walsenburg Interim City Manager Greg Sund said he was made aware of the possible SARS-Cov-2 exposure of the employee on September 12.

“At that point, it was not our employee,” Sund said. “He had just called and said (his wife) had tested positive and he was off work because of that. I was informed of the positive test late in the afternoon September 18.”

He said the health department conducted contact tracing, interviewing the city employees who had contact with the man between September 8 and September 11. As a result, four employees were placed on quarantine and four more placed on “symptom watch,” meaning they were cleared to return to work but were monitoring themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.

All eight have been tested for COVID-19 but test results are still pending, according to Finance Director/Deputy City Manager Julie Clayton.

Sund said he encouraged remaining employees to clean their office areas and vehicles, but did not call for additional measures to be taken.

City Hall was closed not because of the positive COVID-test, he said, but because two utility billing clerks took the week off. They chose to independently get tested for SARS-CoV-2, and cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in staying home until they received their test results, he said.

“When four people are off, it has a huge effect on our operation, so we have to deal with who is remaining on staff,” Sund said. “So we’re assessing what we can do.”

The city hall was closed Monday, September 21, Clayton said. On Thursday, Sept. 24, she said one employee returned to work and city hall is once again open for business.

On Wednesday, Huerfano County Administrator John Galusha posted to Facebook, “Please be aware that… there have been 10 new cases of COVID-19 in Huerfano County in the past eight days. And we currently have 76 people under quarantine. If we continue on that pace, we risk restrictions on our activities. Please be proactive and use the protective measures you have heard repeatedly over the past few months.”

The Las Animas Huerfano Counties District Health Department reported the 24th Las Animas County case on Sept. 17, a juvenile male who is resting at home.

On Sept. 18, local health department reported that a Huerfano County man in his 30s was recovering at home after testing positive.

On Sept. 21, a 50-year-old Huerfano County man was confirmed positive for COVID-19 and was reportedly resting at home.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the local health department reported two more Huerfano County cases, a man in his 40s and a man in his 60s. Both were reportedly recovering at home.

And on Wednesday, Sept. 22, the health department reported the four latest cases. The Huerfano County cases include a 55-year-old woman and a 60-year-old man, both of whom are symptomatic. The Las Animas County cases include a 64-year-old woman and a 71-year-old man. Both are symptomatic.

Of the Huerfano County cases, the local health department said, 10 are active and one patient is hospitalized.

The positive cases have been placed in isolation and all close contacts have been quarantined. The public health nurse has begun contact investigations of all cases to determine if there were any additional exposures, the health department said. The new cases come on the heels of a busy previous week (September 9-16), in which an employee of the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center and Veterans Community Living facility tested positive, as did an employee of First National Bank of Trinidad, Huerfano County branch.

Under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment “dial” system, Huerfano County remains at Safer at Home, Level 1.

The metrics for that level include a two-week incidence of positive cases below 75 per 100,000, a percent positivity no greater than 5%, and stable or declining hospitalizations.

E.E. Mullens contributed to this report