GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – It’s been more than a year since the first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 was found in Colorado.

Some Coloradans have lost family, friends, co-workers. Communities have experienced the loss of jobs and business. Masks and social distancing have become second nature in our day to day lives. With more than 430,000 positive cases and 6,000 lives lost, there is light at the end of the tunnel with three vaccines approved for use.

An unknown novel coronavirus, first found in Summit County on March 5, 2020, eventually made its way across the state and along the I-70 corridor. Mesa County Public Health’s Executive Director, Jeff Kuhr says, the county is lucky to have avoided early surges of the virus. He says the county experienced its first true surge in the fall.

He attributes the team’s expertise in epidemiology for the relatively low number of positive cases within the county.

Executive Director Kuhr lists three focuses for public health: physical health, mental health, and economic health. The pandemic directly impacted public health, but he says for many people, the indirect effects of quarantines, isolation, lay-offs, as well as school and business closures, adversely effected the mental and economic of the community. After brainstorming solutions to keep businesses open, keep people working, and provide an outlet during such a stressful and uncertain time Mesa County Public Health developed the Variance Protection Program, also known as the 5 Star Program.

The program was so successful, it was eventually adopted by the state.

A recent study by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce found the program led to a direct economic impact of $13 million. Diane Schwenke, President & CEO of the chamber, believes the numbers are on the conservative side and says it is likely the program had much greater impact.

On occasion, “new normal” of masks and COVID screenings has been a bit of an annoyance. Other times, the masks and the screenings made a difference in protecting someone from getting sick. For one U.S. Army vet, one COVID screening likely saved his life.