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Colorado government, business groups turn to Google, Zoom, Facebook during COVID-19 crisis

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April 1, 2020, 8:00 am

When Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Colorado’s top public health official, traveled to the state’s hard-hit mountain counties in mid-March to help with the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, she never imagined she wouldn’t be able to return to Denver for more than two weeks.

Jill Hunsaker Ryan

But the former two-term Eagle County commissioner and head of the county’s public health office wound up having to self-isolate with her family in her Edwards home to comply with her department’s own order limiting travel and recommending isolation for anyone in Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties – the early epicenters for COVID-19 in Colorado.

However, Ryan, whose husband later tested positive for the virus and is now recovering, says she didn’t miss a beat in running the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment – largely because of technology from companies like Google and Zoom.

“Absolutely. It’s the great thing about technology,” Ryan said. “I’m basically on Google Hangouts, email and the telephone for like 12 or 13 hours a day, and I don’t need to meet in person. There’s Zoom, that we use sometimes, which is video conferencing, and I’ve been checking in with my team at the incident command center.”

On March 13, after returning from Pitkin County, Ryan and her husband, Taylor, stocked up on a couple of weeks of supplies and settled in for the long haul in Edwards. Part of Ryan’s familiarity with stay-at-home tech tools for working out of the house stems from her time at Eagle County.

Eagle County government is using Google tools like Google Data StudioGoogle Sheets, and Google Forms. And that relationship dates back nine years, according to county officials.

“The fact that we’re on G Suite, all the Google tools, has really made it a fairly seamless process to have a lot of us working remotely,” Eagle County spokeswoman Kris Widlak said. “We were pretty comfortable with them already; we had made the switch to Google nine years ago.”

G Suite is described as “a suite of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools, software and products developed by Google Cloud.”

Taylor Ryan, a senior staff engineer for Eagle County, tested positive for COVID-19 after developing symptoms and finding out that a colleague had also contracted the virus.

“I can’t answer how many employees have [COVID-19] because I don’t know,” Widlak said. “That’s not a reported number. I’m not aware of any others.”

Eagle County is using Google Data Studio to report more timely statistics on the outbreak in a county where international and domestic ski travel likely led to an earlier and higher infection rate. Eagle County is reporting 311 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four deaths so far. The state as of late Tuesday was still reporting just 227 confirmed cases in Eagle County.

Widlak said the vast majority of county employees are now working out of their homes.

“Absolutely, between Google Hangouts, Google Docs, Google Drive – we have shared team drives per each department and then a way to share across the county between departments,” Widlak said. “Work from home has been something that the county has embraced for a long time, so now we just have a lot more people doing it at the same time.”

Other public sector organizations such as the Colorado Workforce Centers are also using Google Forms and other technology to connect with constituents, but so are private-sector business organizations such as the Vail Valley Partnership, which is using YouTube and Google Forms, among other tools.

The VVP is the countywide chamber of commerce whose membership has been economically devastated since Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas were forced to shut down in peak season on March 15 and most local businesses were compelled to shutter soon thereafter.

“COVID-19 has understandably resulted in both fear and uncertainty within the business community,” VVP President and CEO Chris Romer said in an email. “At Vail Valley Partnership, we are utilizing a variety of tech solutions to keep our team working on behalf of our members and the community to provide as much information and as many resources as possible to alleviate the uncertainty faced by business.”

Romer listed off just a few of those tech tools:

“We are utilizing traditional tools such as Facebook Live, social media, and email, and are increasingly utilizing less traditional tools such as Zoom, Google Docs and webinars to share up-to-date information and tools,” Romer said. He also pointed to these resources:

Those with questions about COVID-19 can call the CO HELP Hotline at (877) 462-2911. Other centralized resources are available at:

Local business information: COVID-19 business resources and tools

Eagle County information: ecemergency.org

State information: Employers & Employees

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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