Jefferson County, Colo. — The COVID-19 pandemic has required change for everyone. For many, this has meant making changes in how they work, interact with others and experience the world, all in an effort to keep one another healthy. At Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH), it’s meant not only changing our daily operations to respond to this public health crisis, but also changing how we work with the Jeffco community to best serve emerging needs. Now, as we look to the summer and the gradual, strategic recovery process, JCPH is taking a moment to reflect on successes and progress in the county’s emergency response efforts.
“We know that things likely won’t return to normal for the foreseeable future, and this pandemic will likely change some aspects of our lives altogether. However, it’s important as we continue to move through the changing landscape to recognize how far we’ve come and what has gone well, especially in the face of the many challenges we have endured,” said Christine Billings, Incident Commander and Emergency Preparedness and Response Coordinator at Jefferson County Public Health. “I’m incredibly proud of the staff at JCPH and our partners in emergency response and beyond for their remarkable efforts and dedication to the health and well-being of the people of Jefferson County.”
Providing Personal Protective Equipment to Health Care Facilities and Professionals
Since JCPH began responding to the COVID-19 crisis earlier this year, our team has worked to fill community requests from health and medical partners for personal protective equipment (PPE) to help meet demand. In the last several months, JCPH has processed 227 orders from health and medical partners for PPE, including more than 37,000 N95 masks, 46,000 surgical masks and 112,000 gloves. These materials were provided to hospitals, ancillary care partners, home health providers, midwives, dental practices, emergency eye care practices, orthodontists and our vulnerable populations who receive services in their homes.
For Carlile Dental Care, a family-owned dental office that has been in the same Littleton location for 25 years, PPE provided by JCPH was “a lifeline”.
“We were so very grateful,” said Shelly Carlile, who owns Carlile Dental Care with her husband Daren Carlile, DMD. “We’ve always tried to bless others in our community when we could, but we’ve never been the ones that really needed the help. In the midst of the pandemic, Jefferson County Public Health helped us when the options for obtaining approved PPE were few, as most of it was all going to the hospitals. It was our saving grace and allowed us to reopen safely to serve the needs of our patients. It felt essential in every sense of the word."
Expanding Contact Tracing Capacity to Reduce Viral Spread and Keep Those Exposed Safer
Contact tracing — or working with an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 to help them remember all those they may have been in contact with, then reaching out to those people and repeating the process — is an integral piece of the ongoing efforts to slow the spread of the virus in our community.
While JCPH has had more than two dozen staff members dedicated solely to case investigation and contact tracing since the pandemic began, the need for this quickly outpaced the capacity. To continue to fill this essential function, JCPH has activated volunteers registered with the Colorado Volunteer Mobilizer to recruit and train qualified individuals for assistance and expand our capacity in this area.
Increasing Capacity for Community-wide Testing for Those with Symptoms
One of the earliest identified and most lasting challenges in responding to COVID-19 has been availability and access of testing for those who need it. JCPH has worked closely with medical partners throughout the county, including Jeffco’s federally-qualified community health center, STRIDE Community Health Center, to increase the number of tests available. Now, with STRIDE offering drive-thru testing to anyone who needs it, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, in addition to expanded testing capacity county-wide, we are able to get a better, more accurate picture of what COVID-19 looks like in our community.
“Since early March, STRIDE’s team has been working tirelessly on the frontlines, keeping people safe and finding ways to continue to provide accessible services and care to anyone who needs it, whether related to COVID-19 or not. As a partner with JCPH, we continue to provide both swab and antibody testing at our Wheat Ridge location to existing patients and community members,” said Laura Larson, Vice President of Development for STRIDE Community Health Center. “In alignment with STRIDE’s mission and vision, we are committed to continuing our partnership with JCPH in this ongoing effort to serve the Jefferson County community.”
JCPH is also implementing a county-wide survey to understand testing locations and availability across the county. Initial survey results yielded two new locations and JCPH is working with numerous partners from higher education to pediatricians to increase capacity, in addition to targeted testing within long-term care facilities.
Implementing Evidence-Based Policies to Protect the Community
From enforcing the statewide Stay-at-Home order, to extending the order locally to ensure Jeffco residents benefited from policies tailored at the local level using local data, to moving to alignment with the statewide Safer-at-Home order once it was safer to do so, JCPH has worked continuously to not only enact and enforce public health policies and orders, but to bring in stakeholders for their critical input wherever possible.
For example, as we transitioned into the Safer-at-Home phase of the response, JCPH enlisted the help of our business community to ensure we were meeting and considering their needs. This included getting feedback on guidance, as well as launching a campaign to help businesses show their customers they are taking steps to keep their employees and customers safe in accordance with public health guidelines.
“The West Metro Chamber, the regional chamber, has been really happy to work with other city chambers, Jefferson County Public Health and the county to make sure our businesses are opening safely and that we’re opening up the economy,” said Pam Bales, President and CEO of the West Metro Chamber. “We really value the partnership.”
Working within Our Communities to Meet Individual Needs
We know that, as with every health concern, the most vulnerable in our community have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and have at times felt the effects of the disease compounded. For those with low income and those who struggle with food insecurity, COVID-19 exacerbated the need for affordable food access and availability. Now, in the wake of the pandemic, more Jeffco families than ever are facing these challenges. For the Latinx community, existing health disparities have been highlighted, as they also are risk factors for contracting or complications due to COVID-19. For those who struggle with homelessness or housing insecurity, the need to isolate or socially distance became nearly impossible and a risk factor in and of itself.
Various teams at JCPH have partnered with others across the county to work to address these issues and ensure that, as much as we can, we work to mitigate the inequitable effects of COVID-19 in our community. Our Food Access team has worked with community partners, including the business community and area food banks, to increase awareness about services and to provide resources to those in need. The Adelante Network, which includes representatives from JCPH, has worked with the Latinx community to address specific barriers to information and care. JCPH has worked to set up a non-congregate homeless shelter to help meet the needs of a population largely unable to follow disease prevention and mitigation recommendations.
For more information about COVID-19 and efforts being made in Jefferson County, please visit www.jeffco.us/coronavirus.
About Jefferson County Public Health
Public health is what we as a society do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is a nationally accredited health department committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan for all people through prevention, education and partnerships. To learn more about JCPH visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH, Instagram @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.