County health officials paint stark picture of COVID-19 in Yampa Valley
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In what was called a “sobering conversation,” Routt County public health officials presented a stark picture of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Yampa Valley on Wednesday.
The county reported 22 cases last week, the highest new case total in any one week since the start of the pandemic. The new cases bring the latest two-week total to 41 cases, also a record.
“We are in a worse situation with regards to COVID-19 since this pandemic began,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County Public Health’s chief medical officer. “We are in a period of accelerated COVID-19 spread in our county.”
Unlike previous waves of the virus, this third wave is more sustained, with more new cases coming in the past three weeks than the first two months of the pandemic.
County epidemiologist Fritha Morrison compared the current rise in cases to a spike in July, highlighting how different the current increase is.
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“In July, we hit a plateau pretty quickly. We had a big jump, then it stayed at that level, and it decreased quickly. That is not what we are seeing this time,” Morrison said. “We are continuing to see an increase, and there is no plateau in sight.”
Morrison said she is seeing complacency among residents, which goes beyond just the fatigue of dealing with the virus for so long. Because the county had low case counts throughout the summer, she said people have let their guard down.
“People think they can get away with socializing outside without masks, not necessarily adhering to these guidelines that the state has mandated, and we cannot do that,” Morrison said. “It is clear that is not enough to protect our community from disease.”
She recommends residents wear masks outside. Denver and other Front Range counties have already mandated masks be worn outside.
Of the cases reported in the past two weeks, 17 of them were connected to travel. Ten people contracted the virus while traveling without having contact with a known COVID-19 case.
There were 14 additional cases of visitors testing positive for the virus in the county in the most recent two-week span.
What worries health officials is the potential for increased travel and more contact with people over the coming months.
“I’m worried about Thanksgiving,” Harrington said. “You know you look at July Fourth and Labor Day and each of those events which involved travel, gatherings and interaction with new contacts resulted in our local waves of July and September.”
While younger people in their 20s have seen the most cases of any age group in the county since the start of the pandemic, recent cases are disproportionately affecting people ages 40 to 59.
“I just want to highlight that we are seeing cases in folks that are more likely to potentially need medical care or hospitalization,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist and data manager.
While hospitalizations remain low in Routt County, they are surging across the state. Colorado health officials warned Wednesday that hospitalizations are expected to surpass previous highs seen in April, The Denver Post reported.
“We know that there is a percentage of people with COVID infection who will get seriously ill and a percentage of those people that will be intubated and a percentage of those people who will die,” Harrington said. “If we increase our overall percentage of cases, it is inevitable that we will be seeing more hospitalizations and deaths. I fully expect that we will see more of that in Routt County.”
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.