The year 2020 was a tough one for Pueblo and one the city would just as soon forget. It was not just Pueblo’s winter of discontent. It was a year when all four seasons felt that way. COVID was the common denominator turning the last several months into the city’s worst of times, certainly as it applies to public health.
As summer gave way to fall and then winter, Pueblo’s COVID count began a steady ascent. “You wondered when it would reach its peak and come down,” said Sarah Joseph, in a recent telephone interview. The peak, said the city health department’s public information officer, hit in November but it had been steadily building since the fall.
The health department, which oversees both the city and county, saw the rate of infections suddenly tick upward from September’s 224 cases to 1,159 a month later. But November easily shattered that mark when more than 6,300 cases were charted. December, while still alarmingly high, fell to 4,214. January has so far settled in at a manageable 723 cases.
Joseph said cases all through the warmer months were what were expected. When school started, “Our students were doing a great job wearing their masks and then the holidays started.” Then there was that other matter, one that plagued not only Pueblo but the whole country, complacency. “In breakrooms, relaxing with coworkers, they would relax and take off their masks,” she said. Also contributing to the increased rise in cases were Pueblo’s Columbus Day protests that guarantee large crowds.
Pueblo’s death rate for COVID also showed a remarkable inconsistency. March, April and May recorded deaths in the single digits. The summer months had a high of 11 deaths in June but none in August. The health department recorded only two virus-caused deaths in September but the following months, the trajectory began its upward arc. October showed the first increase with 13 deaths. But November’s toll was 116 followed by 162 in December. It was the worst of times.
“The numbers kept increasing and it was very concerning,” said Joseph. “You wondered when it would reach its peak and come down, especially in the holiday season which is traditionally the time of gathering.”
At the end of October, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar ordered a “Home by Ten”, city-wide curfew. From 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. all bars and restaurants were to be closed. The curfew, intended to curb the trajectory, was originally supposed to last only two weeks, but was subsequently extended on two different occasions. Anyone without a legitimate reason to be out beyond those hours was subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail. The curfew officially ended January 1st.
Despite January’s cases down to 724 to date, Joseph says the city’s not relaxing any edicts. President Biden has incidentally mandated masks in all government facilities. The city, once the state’s hotspot for COVID, has reduced its positivity rate from a high of 15 percent to 3.7 percent. The state’s rate is 4.9 percent.
Pueblo’s winter is an inarguable sign that the virus is a serious public health concern. But also, by adopting common sense public health guidelines, it can be managed though not erased. The city and county, which has a total population of approximately 170,000, is not yet ready to celebrate, said Joseph.
By the middle of January, slightly more than 3,200 Pueblo residents had been vaccinated. For more information, contact pueblovaxnow or call 719-583-4444 and press option 1.
Pueblo, Joseph said, is once again open for business. “I would say people are cautious in Pueblo knowing what we’ve experienced this past year and most importantly in November and December.” Schools are once again opened and, she said, businesses are operating as close to normal as possible.
So far, in January, 31 deaths have occurred.