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Your COVID-19 questions answered by El Paso County Deputy Medical Director

colorado coronavirus covid 19

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- KRDO is sitting down -- virtually -- with Dr. Leon Kelly, the El Paso County Deputy Medical Director and elected county coroner.

His position has shifted since the COVID-19 outbreak. He's now working to track the virus and how it's changed in El Paso County.

We asked him questions about the fight against COVID-19 in El Paso County and recorded his responses below:

How quickly is El Paso County holding up against COVID-19, compared to the rest of the state?

We kind of got into this fight with a death right out of the gate, which we then tied it to the Bridge tournament, which we've all kind of come to understand. Our first group of people who got it were the most at-risk individuals which is why we had a lot of deaths early on. So our death rates jumped out ahead of everybody else right away compared to the total number of cases we had.

Since that time, however, we've done an incredibly good job in this community. Our citizens have really answered the call to action. Where we stand now, as far as the number of deaths and hospitalizations, is dramatically different than where we started this thing.

Has El Paso County hit its peak?

We don't know, but I certainly would hope so. That would be great if this is as bad as it gets, then that's tremendous.

We'll have a very cautious, very thoughtful, stepwise approach as we start to come out of some of these things. People need to give us a couple more weeks and see where we are before we make any decisions.

Why does El Paso County have a shortage of tests?

The testing has been our biggest challenge and that's not unique to Colorado, it's not unique to the United States. You play the game with the players you have on the field. When we came out of the gate here, we did not have access to the level of testing we would have liked.

As we transition out of where we are now, with these sort of dramatic, across the board social distancing strategies, and we start to open things up again, we will need those tests to identify those individuals who do pop up positive.

The number of asymptomatic people is growing in other nations, how can we find out who has already had the coronavirus?

We may find out as we bring some other tests online that allow us to look for antibodies, look for exposures to the virus. Right now all we can really see is if you're infected right now. As we started looking at some of those other things that look backward in time, we might find more people had it.

Has there been an effect on the coroner's office?

The effect on the coroner's office has not been significant. The reality is the vast majority of these folks that are going to die from COVID-19 are going to die in the hospital. There have always been systems in place for people who die of natural diseases in the hospital who don't come to the coroner office.

Your role is among dozens of others who have shifted in the midst of this pandemic. What benefit does that bring the community in the long-run?

You can't account for everything that's going to happen. This is a global pandemic of epic proportions that we haven't seen probably at least since the AIDS epidemic and then before that probably since the Spanish Flu. From the public health perspective, we do plan for these things. But much of what we're doing is reacting to the situation."

You can have all the plans in the world, but once things get rolling you have to be smart and have the right people in the room -- people who are dedicated to the cause and you just have to figure it out along the way.

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Krystal Story

Krystal is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Krystal here.

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