County’s 2-week case counts decline for 1st time since September
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Two-week case counts declined for the first time in Routt County since September as health officials said this is a sign people are taking proper measures to slow the spread of the virus. But officials also cautioned they’re still seeing new cases from improper social gatherings.
Routt County epidemiologist Fritha Morrison shared an example of a recent outbreak to show how easily the virus can spread. Multiple days after his girlfriend got sick and after having exposure to her, the man rode in a vehicle with people from several households.
Of the four people he rode with, several have gotten sick, one of them going to a restaurant and passing it to an employee there, who then infected their whole family.
“You can kind of see how it has knock-on effects because of one person who didn’t stay home when they knew that they had exposure to someone with symptoms,” Morrison said. “And in all of those different instances, we think that probably mask wearing wasn’t happening very well.”
There were 113 new cases in the last week, bringing the total for the pandemic to 790 total cases in the county. The two-week case count of 224 cases is less than the previous two weeks.
There have now been 16 deaths in the county since the start of the pandemic with half of them coming in the last seven weeks.
Routt County remains firmly within the metrics for the level red on the state’s dial framework, and even if there were no new cases next week, the two-week case count would still be above that threshold.
But Routt County epidemiologist Nicole Harty said the county might be moving in the right direction with case counts decreasing from their peak from the middle of November, but it is too soon to say for sure.
“This does seem positive, that things are maybe moving in the right direction, but it is remaining high and elevated, just not as high as it was,” Harty said.
While testing remains high, indicating that the drop in cases is not simply because of a decrease in testing, there are still cases that are not being found because of testing. Roughly one in every 40 Coloradans currently has the virus, according to state modeling, and while it may not be as prevalent in Routt County, health officials are unable to catch all the cases.
It has been over two weeks since the county moved to level red.
“We are seeing some positive impact from the move to red, and we are seeing some negative impact from folks gathering over Thanksgiving,” Harty said.
There have been three new hospitalizations in the last two weeks, bringing the total to 26 in the county. Dr. Brian Harrington, the county’s chief medical officer, said capacity at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center has not been reached.
Harrington said state modeling shows different projections about hospital capacity going forward depending on how much disease transmission there is in the community. Some of these models do result in hospital capacity being breached, Harrington said, but currently it seems it likely won’t happen.
Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said state modeling suggests people are largely staying home, but mobility data implies that people are choosing to go out more than they were a few weeks ago.
Smith said statewide, all but a handful of counties have case counts that would put them in the red metrics, even if the county is not officially in that level.
Harty said public health is tracking several outbreaks and the cases that result from them. The data reinforces what they have been saying for months, that outbreaks at personal gatherings lead to more cases than an outbreak in other settings.
Outbreaks of cases at restaurants have tended to lead to fewer cases, according to county data. But Harty said they report the information they have, and files are often incomplete, sometimes because people were not able to remember every place they went over a two-week period.
Smith said studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have looked at transmission risk from various activities and eating out at a restaurant makes someone twice as likely to contract the virus, the study showed.
Morrison said she suspects that in many of the restaurant outbreaks, they are only capturing the employees who get the virus while someone who came in for a meal may go undetected.
“This is predominately spread with close contact, indoors and without masks, and when food and drink are involved, it seems to increase that risk,” Harrington said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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