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What Life Is Like In A Colorado County Sheltering In Place To Avoid Coronavirus

A view of downtown Telluride from a gondola in 2019.
Scott Franz
Capitol Coverage
A view of downtown Telluride from a gondola in 2019.

Julia Caulfield says a few cars are still driving down Main Street in Telluride.

But with most of the businesses closed and San Miguel County under a shelter-in-place order to combat coronavirus, it's feeling like a ghost town.

Colorado Capitol Coverage reporter Scott Franz talks with KOTO news director Julia Caulfield about how a shelter-in-place order is affecting San Miguel County and Telluride in southwest Colorado.

"There is concern, and folks are nervous or scared or a little bit anxious about what's going on," said Caulfield, the news director for KOTO, a public radio station that operates out of a house in downtown Telluride. "County and health officials have really stressed the importance of maintaining community in this town and at this time."

She said Telluride and San Miguel County residents are getting creative with how to stay connected and maintain a sense of community while being ordered to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. 

"The other night at 7 p.m. a bunch of folks came out onto their front porches to have a group clap for the first responders who are dealing with this outbreak and being together in this moment while staying apart," she said. "There have also been solo dance parties."

San Miguel County could serve as a model for what residents in other parts of the state might start to experience if Gov. Jared Polis issues a shelter-in-place order for Colorado.

The governor said Wednesday he plans to issue more strict social distancing guidelines and he would not rule out such an order.

The order in San Miguel County has closed libraries, ice rinks, community recreation centers and activities at day care centers and home child care centers.

"We are rural and small and we have a really small health professional pool to draw from. We don't have many doctors or nurses," Caulfield said. "If those folks get sick, that could have really big impacts on the health of the county."

Caulfield said short-term lodging is also being shut down. The order is in effect until April 3, but might be extended.

"Health officials are saying there are going to be essential services that people will need to leave their house for," she said. "That's things like going to the grocery store or going to the doctor. They are urging to only have one person per household do something like that at a time so we don't have big family units all going to our tiny little grocery store at one time."

Caulfield added health officials are still urging people to get outside for some fresh air. 

"Folks are allowed to go for walks or solo skis, walk their pets, as long as they are maintaining that six-foot distance from other people," she said. 

Meanwhile, the county health department is planning to start offering widespread COVID-19 testing for free.

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.