Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said Wednesday that while the local Incident Management Team is still requesting supplies and personnel from the state to help with the coronavirus crisis, officials are turning to other sources for assistance.
The state has either filled, denied or provided no answer on several requests, he said. In many cases, a denial is better than no answer at all, Peacock said.
“Not only have some needs gone unfilled — we’re just not hearing back,” he said. “We would rather get an answer from the state that they can’t provide the resource or they are too overwhelmed, whatever the answer is, so that we can move on and plan, and not wait for a response.”
Personal protection equipment, or PPE, is needed now to prepare for the expected surge in local and regional health care activity when the number of local cases starts to peak. While the county has obtained certain types of masks, gowns and gloves that will be needed for a possible onslaught of COVID-19 testing and care, requests for ventilators and related equipment have been denied.
During a Wednesday update from Gov. Jared Polis and other state officials on the government’s response to the pandemic, Scott Bookman, incident commander for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the biggest surge in cases could come anytime between mid-April and July.
Peacock said while supplies such as masks and ventilators are still needed, the biggest challenge has been to procure temporary personnel. Pitkin County’s request to the state last month — well before the county’s March 23 stay-at-home order was issued — sought a state epidemiologist and a public health nurse; a state public health liaison to communicate needs from the local incident command team; and a state emergency preparedness coordinator-planner to help direct local efforts. While the state provided an epidemiologist and a nurse to the county for one week, they have been called back to other locations.
The county also sought two public information officers; one of those positions was supplied by the city of Aspen when communications director Tracy Trulove began working with the emergency team. The IMT also needed a “finance section chief,” a role that was filled locally by Ann Driggers, the county’s finance director.
The county also has not heard back from the state on its request for a National Guard mobile testing team. Then again, the COVID-19 tests the county has ordered have yet to arrive.
Peacock said he hopes that with President Trump’s recent disaster declaration for Colorado, more state and federal help will arrive soon.
“We are hopeful that the communications will improve and that we’ll have better coordination for the response to our needs,” he said. “Right now, we’re not counting on it."
Peacock said every community in the state likely is undergoing the same difficulty. Preparing for the worst part of a pandemic is not the same as asking for help during a typical local emergency like a wildfire or a flood.
”The difference is that this is a worldwide pandemic, and every community is affected by it and needing resources,” he said. “We understand that the state may not be able to fill some of these needs. We’re working to fill these needs locally as much as we can.”
He added that aid from the county’s local partners — such as Aspen, Snowmass Village, fire districts and neighboring counties — has been incredible.
“I’m really appreciative of how all of the entities are pulling together, and how the community as a whole is pulling together,” Peacock said.