Despite one of them contracting the coronavirus, two Garfield County health workers are committed to helping their community survive the raging pandemic.

Dr. Alan-Michael Vargas and Marisa Duran, who both work at the Grand River Health Clinic in Battlement Mesa, said it hasn’t been easy putting themselves at risk while helping others, but that’s their job.

“Living and practicing medicine in rural Colorado and the Western Slope, it’s been easy to daydream about COVID being something that’s plaguing these urban cultural centers or overcrowded areas,” Vargas said. “Although in our part of the state our neighbors can be separated by acres of land, we’re still seeing COVID-19 spread through our communities. Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent hours gowned in plastic in our respiratory clinic watching the number of COVID cases increase.”

Over the course of the past month, the county’s two-week infection rate has tripled.

Although Mesa County went to a red “high-risk” coronavirus alert level on Friday, Garfield County reluctantly switched from the relatively lighter yellow alert to orange, meaning more of its economy will be limited in terms of how many people can congregate together.

Duran, who is the clinic’s coordinator, said she doesn’t know if she contracted the virus late last month at work or elsewhere in the community.

Regardless, she said it isn’t something anyone wants to go through.

“We don’t really know what we’re really walking into in the grocery stores or at work, so it’s difficult to say where this virus is coming from or from whom,” she said. “My symptoms hit me really quick without a lot of warning. I never thought I would have COVID. It was not a fun experience.”

Both were featured Friday in one of Gov. Jared Polis’ briefings about the state’s ongoing response to the pandemic.

Polis, who has called for state legislators to convene a special session later this month to address ways to help businesses and individuals get through the next few months until a vaccine is widely available, repeated his calls for people to take the whole thing seriously.

He highlighted the Garfield County health experts as a way to show that this isn’t just happening in larger, more urban settings, and blamed those who aren’t following simple guidelines for the recent resurgence in infections.

“It’s unfair that our small businesses are paying the price for fundamentally a lack of personal responsibility, and us each taking charge of preventing a spread of the virus, which is well within our power,” Polis said. “There’s more that we can do to step up.”

Recommended for you