Director’s Blog 7/03/20

Director’s B;pg July 3, 2020

Written by Ian Billick, PhD

Hard to believe but RMBL has been fully operational for more than a month.  For those of you that aren’t here, what does it feel like?

We have about 60 people onsite, with the numbers expected to continue to grow through summer.  There are lots of ground squirrels and ground squirrel researchers this year.  Seeing scientists walking around with clipboards and binoculars creates a reassuring sense of normalcy. Lunches at the community center usually involve 10-20 people spread outside.  People are very good about wearing masks.  As one senior scientist said, “it feels safe”.

On the other hand, Crested Butte doesn’t “feel” safe.  Elk Avenue is packed.  Tracking data indicates that most of the visitors are from Colorado, but there are plenty of visitors escaping the heat (and the virus?) in southern states where infection levels are high.  Over the last week there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people wearing masks but there are some who oppose masks. Just recently there was an informal bike race leading to a spontaneous Elk Avenue party—just the kind of large event you don’t want with a disease that relies upon superspreading.

Despite the looseness, the numbers look good. There is a low number of new cases, but nothing unusual given what we have seen the last several months.  The total amount of testing has been going up, which may explain some of the detected infections. On the hospital side, CB being CB, there are quite a few people going through the hospital with gravity-induced injuries, but no CoVID19 admits.

While the numbers look good, it could take one or two doublings of the number of people infected to see a jump in transmission.  Most test reports come back within 48 hrs, but the state lab is a bit overwhelmed so there can be a week lag. Hospital admits lag infection rates even more.  It’s hard to keep your eye on exponential growth when indicators lag 2-3 weeks.

On a separate note, RMBL will be doing a resiliency analysis this fall to help us think about what did and did not work in our response to the virus.  As stewards of one of the largest collections of long-term research we have a responsibility to plan long-term.  We can expect future crises, from disease to fire to financial meltdowns.  We need to learn from this summer and the more we understand what worked (or didn’t) for you, the better prepared we will be for the next crisis.  We’ll include questions about this in our summer operations survey, which you should fill out even if you didn’t come.  And if you have thoughts now don’t hesitate to shoot them off to me.

Thanks to Dr. Diane Campbell for suggesting this subject.  And if you have other ideas for future blog posts, please let me know!  Have a happy, safe and fire-free July 4th!