COVID-19 cases expected to rise; 1 new case reported in Steamboat schools

Visitors and residents pose to show off their face masks. Face masks continue to be a politicized topic across the country.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “Just as everyone has anticipated, this fall and winter, things are going to get worse,” said UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center infection preventionist Lauren Bryan of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The goal is to minimize outbreaks and large exposure. We are going to have more cases.”

It’s not surprising, she said, as cold and flu season has begun and more people will be spending more time indoors as the weather changes.

“We are definitely going to see more transmission,” Bryan said.

The move indoors is primarily significant because outdoors has a powerful diluting effect, Bryan said.

“All of us may have been exposed to a tiny bit of the virus, but not enough quantity to substantiate the necessary dosing level,” she said. “You’ve got to have enough virus to replicate and make you sick.”

On Saturday, Steamboat Springs School District parents received a letter alerting them to the fact that nine students and three staff members were quarantined after being identified as a “close contact” to a Soda Creek Elementary student with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

The student who tested positive was last in school on Thursday, and everyone who has been identified as a close contact has been contacted, according to the letter.

Cases in Colorado, and nearly everywhere in the U.S., are seeing an increase over recent weeks. Colorado also saw an increase in hospitalizations.

Based on the state modeling Bryan keeps an eye on, an additional 400 deaths are projected in Colorado by the end of the year. However, the model is only as good as what information is put in, she emphasized. That figure is based on the estimate that 60% of the population will socially distance and wear masks.

“It’s based on unknowns,” she said. “It’s so dependent on human behavior.”

Routt County experienced a spike in cases from mid- to late-September, but that case and positivity rate then went back down, Bryan said.

Looking at numbers just for the tests administered at the local hospital for the week of Sept. 14 to 20, Bryan said the positivity rate was “the highest it’s ever been” at 8%. Out of 154 people tested at the hospital, 13 tested positive. Normally, the positivity rate hovers between 1% and 3%.

“I didn’t like that,” she said. “But most importantly, the next week, it wasn’t high — or the next.”

The positivity rate for the county remained lower during that same week because of the much larger pool of data from every clinic and testing site in town. The county’s numbers also only reflect Routt County residents, not visitors who may have been in Routt County and tested positive while here.

“We are not showing mass transmission in the community,” Bryan said.

Routt County has its own unique attributes as compared to the rest of the state, Bryan noted, especially in attracting a lot of visitors.

Bryan pointed to the example of the recent outbreak at a hunting camp where 10 people were infected. They did not get counted in the county’s numbers because they were out-of-state residents. The source was identified as one symptomatic hunter who was visiting from another state.

Often, people pick up the virus during their travels, Bryan noted. She pointed to one example of a teenager in Texas who tested negative before traveling to a family reunion and spreading the virus to 14 family members.

It’s like being pregnant, Bryan said. Sometimes, it’s too early to test positive, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t pregnant.

But in terms of the hunters, they didn’t spread it to the local population outside of the camp. It was contained, and the Routt County Department of Public Health did a good job in helping to prevent further transmission, she said.

In terms of tracking how cases are being transmitted nationwide, Bryan said it is most often in indoor settings where people weren’t wearing masks and were in close proximity to other people for a significant amount of time.

“The obvious things we’ve been talking about for nine months,” she said.

In terms of what has happened so far in Routt County schools, Bryan said while still early, the schools have been able to contain the cases and prevent further spread.

In addition to the case at Soda Creek, there have been three cases reported at Steamboat Mountain School and one at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

“Without the precautions the schools have put into place,” she said — like mask wearing, dividing into pods and other measures — “it could spread quickly. Children are fantastic vectors for this disease.”

Children carry high viral loads, Bryan said.

“They are excellent replicators,” she added.

For the new Soda Creek case, staff in quarantine will return to school Oct. 16 and students on Oct. 20, according to the letter.

“We are working closely with Routt County Health, and at this time, they feel it is safe to have students and staff in our buildings,” the letter stated. “Please continue to regularly monitor your child for symptoms of COVID-19. If your child has any symptoms, please do not send him/her to school.”

The students and staff quarantined due to the case at the middle school have returned to the classroom.

Nationwide, cases are increasing among young people.

Children of all ages now make up 10% of all U.S cases, up from 2% in April, according to a report released last week from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week the incidence of COVID-19 in school-age children began rising in early September as many returned to school.

About two times more teens were infected than younger children, according to the CDC report. The hospitalization and death rates are much lower among children, according to the CDC, with less than 2% of infected children hospitalized,

Bryan’s best advice heading into winter is to avoid crowded indoor areas when possible, keep using masks and continue social distancing. And make sure you pull that mask up over your nose, she added.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

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