COVID-19 cases in Routt County reach 2K mark as nearly 8K residents receive first dose of vaccine

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County has recorded its 2,000th case of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the county’s dashboard that was last updated at 4 p.m. Thursday.

But this may not be the only milestone crossed this week, as the county will likely have given more than 8,000 residents their first dose of the vaccine by the end of the day Friday. The county is currently 19 first-doses away from that mark.

“I think what is really incredible is that almost four times as many people in our community has received at least one dose,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist.

From March 10 to 16, there were 41 new cases of COVID-19 in the county, continuing a plateau over the past four weeks that has kept new weekly cases around the 40- to 50-a-week mark. Harty said case incidence and test positivity have been stable,

“We’re not out of the woods yet — that is what I feel this plateau sort of tells us,” Harty said. “If we were to dramatically lessen our restrictions right now and gather more widely and not wear masks and all of these things, we would absolutely see an increase.”

Routt County has seen new COVID-19 cases plateau for four weeks between 40 and 50 cases each week. (Screenshot)

The main driver for new COVID-19 cases recently has been social gatherings — most of which are not in violation of any public health order — and community spread, meaning a source of the case could not be determined, Harty said.

The leveling off of cases has been seen at the state level too, but resort communities like Routt County have seen this at levels 40% to 60% higher than the state as a whole. Harty said vaccination efforts in the county and the disease prevalence are in a “tug of war” with each other.

“We are seeing our cases is some of the groups of folks who are not eligible for vaccination quite yet,” Harty said.

Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County’s chief medical officer, said he doesn’t believe local public health officials have the “magic answer” about why things have plateaued; instead, it is a mix of vaccination rates, lesser restrictions and people moving around more.

“There is some risk in our optimism that we prematurely relax some of our personal behaviors, but that is a balance,” Harrington said. “There is some guesswork on trying to figure out where that balance is. But with all the positive signs we have had in the last month or so, I think that it really makes sense that we are trying to ease off on some of the restrictions.”

More than one in every five residents in Routt County have now been fully vaccinated, with nearly a third of people having received at least the first dose of a vaccine. About 84% of residents 60 and older have received their first dose, with 56% of them being fully vaccinated.

Vaccine eligibility is set to expand Friday to include Coloradans 50 and older, those with one high-risk health condition and several groups of essential workers, including restaurant workers.

If vaccination rates were not at the levels they are now, Harty said the county would likely be seeing more cases. There have been a handful of instances where someone tests positive for COVID-19 after getting their first shot of the vaccine, Harty said, which is to be expected, as people do not realize full protection of the vaccine for several weeks.

Hospitalizations in Colorado have seen slight increases this week, but in Routt County, there have not been any new hospitalizations in the past two weeks, and just 35 residents have been hospitalized throughout the course of the pandemic.

Harrington said there is a concern that more easily transmissible variants could take a stronger hold leading to a rise in cases.

Colorado has found 347 cases of one of two COVID-19 variants of concern. Both the B.1.1.7, first found in the United Kingdom, and the B.1.351, first found in South Africa, are considered variants of concern, but neither has been seen in Routt County.

The state is monitoring variants, and Harrington said at this point Colorado is not seeing them as much as other states like Michigan and Florida, which combined have seen more than a quarter of all B.1.1.7 variant cases in the country, according to the CDC’s variant tracker. Harrington said he doesn’t believe Colorado seeing less variant cases is because of lack of detection though, as states are all using similar ways to find variants.

“I think overall, we are still on an improving trajectory, and I still believe that, come May or June, it is going to be a glorious spring,” Harrington said. “We still got a lot of work to do in the next couple months though.”

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