If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a beautiful out-of-the-way Colorado drive, there is nothing lovelier than a day trip through the San Luis Valley. Just a tad over three hours southwest of Denver, you’ll find little gems of the state named Del Norte, Monte Vista and San Luis, towns bathed in the shadow of some of the state’s most majestic mountains.
But today with another shadow hanging over the Valley, things are not nearly as idyllic as they may seem. The coronavirus has found a foothold and, slowly, has begun exacting a toll.
“As of this weekend,” said Linda Smith, Public Information Officer for the six-county region, “we were reporting 17 positive cases.” While Smith could not provide ages for the Valley’s C-19 victims, some have been serious enough that they required transport to hospitals better equipped to treat them. So far, none of the cases has been fatal.
The Valley’s first case was reported on March 23rd. It’s most recent was last week when a pair of cases were confirmed. Smith did not know how many confirmed cases have required hospitalization but did offer that some required only self-quaranteeing.
The Valley is served by three hospitals, the largest in Alamosa. Smaller facilities are located in Del Norte and La Jara. But despite the availability of space in these hospitals, they are all dealing with the same issues as the biggest and most modern hospitals in the country. “We’re in the same boat as everybody,” she said. “We’ve had fewer cases, but we also have fewer resources.” The regional PIO said that everyone is taking “all conservation measures” to ration everything, most especially personal protective equipment.
“Our major hospitals (in the Valley) have a big initiative going on getting volunteers to make masks,” she said. “I think the community has been very responsive but not enough to meet demand.” Like hospitals and health care facilities everywhere, it is a losing proposition.
Guessing how C-19 got to the Valley is a question without an answer. “I believe our first cases were travel related,” she said. Despite being a sparsely populated area of the state, “we’re not self-contained,” she said. “People have to travel for medical care and shopping.”
What does concern Smith as she drives to and through each of the six-county region is the number of people who are not adhering to Governor Polis’ shelter-in-place order. “If I go to my office, it’s me and two or three other people. I’m a little surprised by the people who are not taking the stay-at-home-order seriously.”
Rural Colorado does not have the challenges of an urban population center but wrestles with many of the same issues as the rest of the state. But because its economic base is so much smaller, meeting the needs of poorer citizens, including a growing elderly population, and an expanding number of homeless has stretched things to the limit, said Smith.
“These are difficult times for a lot of people,” she said. “People are worried about the economic impact (of the virus),” she said. “It’s a difficult time for a lot of people.”
Because of the diaspora of Valley families now living across Colorado, many if not most in the Denver metro area, Smith is hoping that these expats---and anyone else---might consider making donations to local foodbanks at a time when they are stretched to the limit. Personal protective equipment---gloves, gowns or masks---are in short supply, she said. If someone wants to make a cash donation to help out, “La Puente could use some cash. It would help a lot of foodbanks in our area.” Donations can be made to