Cases, positivity rate and hospitalizations all up as Routt County prepares for move to level red of state dial
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County officials tried to strike a positive tone Wednesday, just a day after the state increased restrictions locally and new case data shows exponential growth and uncontrolled community spread of COVID-19 in the county.
“We fell in pretty fast. Hopefully, we can crawl out pretty fast as well, if we actually do start seeing some results of the things that we are trying to have happen,” said Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger.
Late Tuesday, state health officials moved Routt and several other counties to an amended version of level red of its dial framework, closing restaurants for indoor service, limiting office and gyms to just 10% capacity and forbidding personal gatherings.
Roberta Smith, Routt County public health director, said state officials believed the previous version of level red was too restrictive, so they created an in-between step, serving as a more stringent level without forcing a shutdown.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he has received many emails from business owners who are angered by the new restrictions.
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Corrigan stressed that state officials and not commissioners are imposing the new restrictions, which go into effect at 5 p.m. Friday. In an updated public health order last week, commissioners codified the state’s dial framework by adopting any restrictions that it requires the county to follow.
Routt County has had a record 168 cases in the past two weeks. Of all the cases in the county since the start of the pandemic, more than 40% of them have been discovered in the past two weeks. There were 30 new cases in the county on Nov. 9 alone.
“We are, over the last four weeks, in a bit of exponential growth,” said Nicole Harty, county epidemiologist. “(It’s) hard to say if we are plateauing yet or not.”
Fellow county epidemiologist Fritha Morrison said the rate of increase of the virus in the county is slowing — a positive sign — but it is still too early to tell if it is a trend brought on by the increased restrictions.
“Our rate is slowing, but obviously, we are still increasing and still climbing in our case counts,” Morrison said. “It is clear we are still rising, and we still have a high prevalence of disease in the community, and I think that should be the take home point.”
Hospitalizations have increased as well with three new hospitalizations at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. Hospital officials said they are seeing more people who are showing up at the hospital seeking care for COVID-19 but who don’t require admission.
The county’s test positivity rate also has increased, reaching 7.7%, which means one in every 13 people who are being tested in the county are positive with COVID-19. Harty suggested the high positivity rate means they could be doing more testing.
“We are doing perhaps more tests now per week than we have ever done before,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer. “We are somewhere around 1,000 tests a week now, which is two to three times what we were doing a couple months ago.”
Harrington said the free COVID-19 testing offered by the county is sent to the state lab, which has a backlog. He said the county is prioritizing people with symptoms for testing.
Still, Harrington stressed that people without symptoms have options to get tested locally, though they may have to pay for it — a sacrifice he didn’t think was unreasonable.
Brooke Maxwell, Routt County public health nurse, stressed that a negative test is not a shortcut out of isolating after potential exposure to the virus.
“A negative test is not going to get you out of quarantine,” Maxwell said. “If you are isolated, if you are quarantined, first of all, it means you have to stay home, and second of all, it means you have to serve your entire time.”
Both Maxwell and Smith stressed that after someone is tested, they should isolate until they have the results.
Smith asked residents to expect a call from public health if they test positive. People are advised to answer calls or to call the county back when called. She said some people have reported they never received a call. Smith mentioned that some of their contact tracers have phone numbers that are not local.
Maxwell said community spread of the virus is increasing at a rapid rate, which means that health officials are not able to determine how the person contracted the virus. She also stressed that people need to limit social gatherings, which are not allowed under level purple, especially with the holidays coming up.
“What we saw come from Halloween, let’s not have that same increase after next week and Thanksgiving,” Maxwell said.
County leaders also stressed the importance of continuing to follow the five commitments of containment, which include: maintaining 6 feet of social distance; washing hands often; wearing a face covering in public; staying home if at risk or sick; and getting tested immediately if a person has symptoms. They also stressed the importance of eliminating personal gatherings.
“One of the central questions we have is do we need to be doing new things to get this under control or do we just need to do what we know already works?” Harrington said. “I would suggest that if folks would just adhere to these six commitments, we would be highly successful.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Routt County’s COVID-19 incidence rate is increasing exponentially and is now among the top three in Colorado behind only Moffat and Kit Carson counties.