At emergency meeting, Routt County officials urge residents to follow health orders as COVID-19 cases reach new highs
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After moving to Level Yellow, formerly known as Level 2, of the state’s Safer at Home plan Friday, Routt County officials held an emergency public health meeting pleading with residents to adhere to current public health orders.
Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said the meeting was called to alert residents to the “precarious situation we find ourselves in locally, statewide and nationally” asking for people help to them “avert a potential catastrophe.”
Routt County has seen an alarming amount of new cases of COVID-19, with 58 new cases in the past two weeks, shattering the previous two-week record of 44. The increase comes as cases are spiking across the state putting increased pressure on the health care system.
Hospitalizations statewide have reached new peaks and one out of every 100 Coloradans currently is infected with COVID-19, according to state health officials.
“We are not seeing these hospitalizations level off,” Soniya Fidler, president of UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, said during the meeting. “Our admissions are far exceeding our discharges.”
While hospitalizations are still low in Routt County, the local health care system does not exist in a vacuum and will experience effects as hospitalizations increase across the state.
UCHealth is currently caring for 229 COVID-19 patients across its hospital system, with 50 of those being in northern Colorado. Fidler stressed there will be medical situations that require local patients to transfer to hospitals on the Front Range, hospitals that are being pushed closer to capacity every day.
While UCHealth is processing about 2,600 COVID-19 tests each day, Fidler said their testing capacity is under strain as it was earlier in the pandemic.
The seven-day positivity rate for tests processed by UCHealth is over 20%, she said, meaning more than one of every five tests are coming back positive.
Health care professionals have gotten better at determining the proper level of care for patients, Fidler said, but they are also seeing patients deteriorate much quicker than seen previously.
“They are seeing more often that the decline of the patients’ condition is occurring very rapidly which then for us probably means more reliance on transferring to a higher level of care,” Fidler said. “If capacity is an issue with those hospital beds, that becomes a problem for us.”
The new cases puts Routt County squarely within metrics for Safer at Home Level Orange, previously known as Level 3, which would impose the most severe restrictions on the county since the state’s Stay at Home order earlier this year.
Commissioners have foreshadowed a move to Level Orange, which would put more restrictions in place like reducing restaurant and office capacity to 25%, instead of 50%. Commissioners are already telling businesses to prepare for a move to Level Orange early next week, though no official move has yet been made.
“We could lose our ability to keep our kids in school, to have a successful ski season, to help our local businesses and to keep our local economy afloat,” Corrigan said. “Our health care system’s capacity to take care of sick individuals could soon be exceeded. We could see more of our friends and family members’ lives claimed by this disease.”
While health officials have taken more of a “carrot” approach to controlling the virus to this point, they made it clear that the “stick” is coming.
Law enforcement officials joined the meeting, acknowledging that compliance with public health orders is mandatory and while they hope for compliance, it doesn’t seem to be working.
“We are at the point now where if voluntary compliance isn’t going to work, we are going to have to bring some enforcement,” said Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief Cory Christensen. “If you don’t want to have an encounter with law enforcement over public health orders, then follow the public health orders.”
Routt County District Attorney Matt Karzen said during the meeting that his office is creating a framework for how local law enforcement can better handle violations of local public health orders.
“We have a duty of public safety and we would need to change from an education and prevention model, to an enforcement model,” Karzen said.
Officials also highlighted that the new spike puts in jeopardy the upcoming ski season. The pandemic caused Steamboat Resort to end its winter season early this spring, and while they plan to open Nov. 21, it is not a sure thing.
“This is a time of year when we don’t see a lot of visitors so this is us, this is our community, we really need to work together to ensure that we have a season that is going to open 15 days from now, hopefully,” said Rob Perlman, president and COO of Steamboat Resort. “We need cooperation from our community and every individual to take this very seriously or we are going to have to take drastic steps.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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