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Plans Are In Place To Deal With COVID’s Impacts, Montezuma County Emergency Manager Says

Austin Cope

In response to an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, Montezuma County has reopened its emergency operations center. According to its manager, Jim Spratlen, the center coordinates between various county, state, and public health organizations to mitigate the impacts of the virus.

KSJD’s Austin Cope spoke with Spratlen to learn more about how the county is working to assist those disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to social, economic and racial inequities.

This transcript has been edited for clarity. The interview was recorded Tuesday, the day before outbreaks at Vista Mesa Assisted Living and the Montezuma County Department of Social Services had been made public. 

Austin Cope, KSJD: The consequences of this have been disproportionately affecting Indigenous people [and] other people of color. How is the county looking at how those consequences will be impacting certain groups of people who may have other forms of discrimination or other forms of racial bias, making it harder for them to, say, get health care, or harder for them to keep their business open?

Jim Spratlen, Montezuma County Emergency Manager: So, that’s a big question. What we’re doing in emergency management is making sure that those that do not have the funding -- that we take care of them the best we can. We do have non-congregant sheltering, that when we do have someone who has COVID, and they test positive, that we’re able to put them up in a place where it’s warm and away from other people. Of course, people have to obey the rules when that occurs. As far as racial … we haven’t seen any hate crimes at this point, that I’m aware of, but that is a consequence. If people believe that it’s coming from a certain group of people, they’ll start … gathering around that group and cause problems. We’re not seeing that, and we don’t advocate that, of course. So, part of that is making sure that the truth gets out, that this is not being spread by a certain group. This has no specific group of people that it attacks. It’s attacking everybody and spreading by everybody. So, we’re very aware of that, we’re working on that. We have a homeless group that we’re working on again. We opened it up in April. Trying to come up with some kind of consequence management.

Cope: You’re talking about the shelter?

Spratlen: Not necessarily just the shelter, but what do we do when the homeless population does contract COVID-19? So, where do we go with that? It’s a difficult question.

Cope: Of course, just making sure that we’re clear that not everybody who is a minority is homeless.

Spratlen: Correct.

Cope: I also want to talk about elderly people and disabled people. How is the county making special accommodations to make sure that they have the access to the care they may need if they catch the virus?

Spratlen: So, they are getting the care that they need, that I’m aware of. I know that the assisted living homes and residents that we have in the county are very strict. They’re making sure that the testing is occurring there. If we do have an outbreak in one of the homes, I mean, the health department, the hospital, the EMS, everybody is jumping on it immediately, and we’re taking care of the residents and also the staff. So, we’re making sure that we’re nipping that in the bud … so those are some key areas that we’re looking at.

Cope: When you’re talking about emergency management, obviously, you’re talking about the broader impacts. It’s not just COVID-19 that’s creating the problem; it’s all the ripple effects. So, how is the county working with those ripple effects — the economic effects, the effects to social services, et cetera? How is the emergency management office working on mitigating those?

Spratlen: That’s a good question. We’re doing a lot.

Cope: If you could mention a few programs or a few specific initiatives that you have?

Spratlen: Sure, well, part of our Emergency Operations Center … has a planning section. In that planning section, we plan for future events, and we also plan for current events. In that section, we have a recovery unit. And in that recovery unit, we have social recovery, mental health recovery, and economic recovery. And we have three people working on that constantly since April. And, of course, we’ve got the loans coming out with the CARES act. That’s part of that economic recovery. The mental health recovery, we noticed that could be an issue, not only for the elderly that are cooped up at some of these assisted living homes, but everybody. Everybody from children all the way up. So, Axis Health is working very actively to make sure we have access to Axis [laughs], and dealing with any problems that anybody has. Tri-Chambers is working very heavily on the economic problem, and then part of all that is the social problem of the gatherings. You know, how do you get people back together without infecting. So, it’s a big issue, but it’s an ongoing effort on our part.

Austin Cope is a former Morning Edition host for KSJD and now produces work on a freelance basis for the station. He grew up in Cortez and hosted a show on KSJD when he was 10 years old. After graduating from Montezuma-Cortez High School in 2010, he lived in Belgium, Ohio, Spain, northern Wyoming, and Himachal Pradesh, India before returning to the Cortez area. He has a degree in Politics from Oberlin College in Ohio.