5 Australians who were in Steamboat test positive for COVID-19: Officials urge increased vigilance
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A group of five international travelers from Australia who stayed in Steamboat March 10 to 12 returned to their home country where they tested positive for COVID-19.
The five who tested positive were traveling in a group of 30 Australians, according to Kari Ladrow, Routt County director of public health.
“The travelers visited several local establishments and may have had close contact with numerous people,” according to a news release from the Routt County Department of Emergency Management. “The state health department now assumes we have community spread of the COVID-19 virus. Community spread is defined as transmission of the disease from one individual to another within the same community.”
In light of this development, Routt County Public Health Officer Brian Harrington said the community needed to be more active in adhering to recommended precautions to prevent spread of the disease.
“Especially to our most vulnerable,” Harrington added.
The group of Australians left on or shortly after March 13. Routt County officials were notified of the situation midday Tuesday, March 17.
Some of the details regarding travel dates and locations visited in Steamboat or other places in Colorado aren’t known at this time. Officials said as they get more information, they will provide updates.
It isn’t known at this time whether the Australians transmitted the virus to anyone in Routt County. However because it also isn’t known where the five Australians contracted the virus, it is now defined as community spread.
“We have to assume it is out there,” Harrington said. “We have to operate on the assumption of community spread.”
In this instance, the contact tracing investigation is challenging.
It was “a significant amount of people with a significant amount of contact in the community,” Ladrow said.
Not disclosing specific locations also has to do with reporting guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Ladrow said. She could not say whether the group skied at Steamboat Resort.
“They were out in public, in restaurants, on transportation, and we could not trace contact to any known individual with a known case of COVID-19 in Routt County,” said Dan Hatlestad, the new joint information center manager for Routt County.
However, Harrington noted it is becoming clearer in these investigations that close contact matters more than locations.
The CDC defines close contact as being within 6 feet for at least 10 minutes, Harrington said. It does not necessarily mean direct physical contact.
That said, officials have been in contact with the lodging accommodations where at least some of the group stayed, but they would not provide those details, citing state guidelines.
“We have issued guidelines for any establishment where close contact may have occurred,” Hatlestad said.
Based on what is known at this time about the timeline of travel and testing, Harrington said it should be presumed they were “shedding the virus here.”
“Until we have more information, we have to presume they had symptoms while here,” Harrington added.
The recommendation from officials for anyone who has concerns about contact with the individuals and is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 is to stay home and contact their primary care provider.
“If you don’t have symptoms, continue all of the protection measures that we have been emphasizing,” Harrington said. “It’s hard for us to know who had close contact with the individuals, but we assume there were many.”
Harrington emphasized that what is more important than figuring out whether or not you had contact with one of these individuals is taking the COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines seriously and being proactive in protecting ourselves and the most vulnerable populations.
Before immediately heading to the hospital, people who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 have several resources, including:
- The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing a phone line to answer questions from the public about COVID-19. Call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for answers in English and Spanish, Mandarin and more.
- UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center offers Ask-A-Nurse, a 24/7 call line staffed by registered nurses who can assess symptoms and provide advice on seeking care. In Routt County, Ask-A-Nurse can be reached by calling 970-871-7878.
- Virtual Visits can be done from the comfort of your home and only require a computer or tablet with a working webcam, speakers and microphone, or a smartphone.
- If patients are experiencing severe symptoms or having difficulty breathing, they should visit the hospital’s emergency department.
Take precautions in everyday life:
- Frequently and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home if you’re sick and keep your children home if they are sick.
- Clean surfaces in your home and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.
- Be calm but be prepared.
- Employees at businesses and customers are required to wear a mask, according to a Routt County public health order.
Local testing capacity is increasing.
A mobile health clinic, operated by the National Guard, will be in Steamboat on Saturday, March 21. On Monday, March 16, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in partnership with UCHealth, opened a COVID-19 Specimen Collection Center located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road.
People must have a referral from their health care providers to get tested.
As of Tuesday, March 17, Routt County had only two confirmed positive cases of COVID-19. That number has not changed since Friday, March 13.
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