Community spread, workplaces, gatherings fueling virus transmission in Routt County
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Increased community spread of COVID-19 and spread through known sources such as workplaces and personal gatherings are fueling the increased cases of the virus in Routt County.
It has also led to two deaths this week connected to the virus. At the Routt County Public Health board meeting Wednesday, health officials noted the new death without providing further details. Another person who lived at Casey’s Pond who had COVID-19 died Saturday.
Case counts continue to set new records each week as the spread of the virus increases stress on hospitals across the state and leads to more deaths in residential care facilities.
“We are seeing disease in all age groups,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist. “No one is able to avoid getting sick. We really want to emphasize the high incidence and that we’re seeing disease transmission in a variety of different settings.”
There were 128 new cases of the virus in the last week, bringing the two-week case count to 231 cases, both the highest the county has seen since the start of the pandemic. The weekly case total has set a new record each of the past four weeks.
One potentially positive sign is that new cases have increased by a lesser rate in recent weeks, a trend health officials have seen across the state.
Harty said Routt County had an exponential increase in cases a few weeks ago, and ever since, the rate of increase is less.
“(Cases are) still increasing — that is not a trend in the right direction,” she said. “These numbers are still astronomically high, and we really need to see them go down.”
Harty said the state’s red level on the dial is an appropriate level for Routt County based on current data. The county’s two-week case totals are more than double the lower limit for level red.
“Even if we had zero cases next week, we would still be in red because we had 128 new cases this week,” said county epidemiologist Fritha Morrison. “And we know that is not going to happen.”
The virus is spreading most through community spread, which has increased in recent weeks — a sign that health officials said emphasizes how integrated the virus is in the community. Officials pointed to a dinner party someone had that resulted in spread of the virus.
Hospitals across the state are filling up, and many on the Front Range have already reached capacity, said Roberta Smith, Routt County Public Health director.
Locally, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs is not at its capacity with COVID-19 cases, said Dr. Brian Harrington, county chief medical officer.
Where they are seeing stresses is when it comes to the local hospital transferring someone to the Front Range with some of those hospitals pushing back as their beds fill up, he said.
Harrington also said he is aware of two local cases of people who tested positive for the virus in the spring, texted negative during the summer and are now again showing symptoms and tested positive for the virus, a clear indication of reinfection.
Harrington also addressed PCR testing and questions about cycle threshold that was the subject of a letter published in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
PCR tests have been around for a long time and are meant to detect the presence or absence of a particular virus, in this case COVID-19, Harrington said. The cycle thresholds are how many times a sample is amplified to be able to conduct the test.
Tests are required to achieve a 95% efficiency and specificity rate to get emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
“The choice of the cycle threshold is not a random pick, it is actually based on math. It is based on precedent, and it is what was dictated by the FDA,” Harrington said. “We locally don’t have anything to do with that.”
Harrington said cycle threshold information on various PCR tests is available from the FDA.
County Attorney Erick Knaus said that while the county has received a lot of requests from people for this type of information, the county has not received a formal Colorado Open Records Act request as indicated in the letter. Even if the county did receive one, Knaus said, it would not have the records to provide to the requester.
“The county does not have a record that has the information that would be requested,” Knaus said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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