COVID-19 disease prevalence stays low, commissioners gather public input and work toward moving to next phase
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With “a sustained five-week downward trend in positive COVID-19 tests in Routt County,” the county remains in the low category in terms of disease prevalence, Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington told the Routt County Board of Commissioners, serving as the Board of Health, last week.
For Routt County’s population of approximately 25,000, low spread would mean seven or fewer cases in a two-week period, medium spread would be eight to 13 cases, high spread would be 14 to 26 cases and very high would be greater than 26 cases in a two-week period, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Of the four new COVID-19 cases reported in the week prior, Harrington said they all involved non-Routt County residents who arrived in the county within the past weeks.
As of Sunday, there have been 138 COVID-19 cases to date in Routt County, according to the CDPHE.
The three asymptomatic cases found among boarding students during antigen testing at Steamboat Mountain School on Sept. 3 were classified as part of the Routt County numbers, Harrington said. “We could make the case that they acquired their infection elsewhere before arriving in Routt County.”
Routt County Director of Public Health Roberta Smith noted that a University of Colorado student from Routt County tested positive while in Boulder, and that will be added to Boulder County’s numbers.
“CDPHE is figuring out what to do the with the student population. We have gone back and forth on this, but the direction is to count students where they are going to school and not necessarily their permanent residence,” Smith told the commissioners.
While the sustained low counts have allowed for in-person learning locally, “We will have to see if school openings, as well as the recent Labor Day weekend activities, correlate with increasing case numbers in Routt County in the weeks ahead,” Harrington said. There has also been a decreasing demand for testing, he added, potentially indicating fewer symptomatic people.
Because of the long holiday weekend, Dr. Fritha Morrison, the county’s temporary epidemiologist, said “it’s possible that we have more tests still outstanding than we would have in a typical week, and it remains to be seen how people’s behaviors over the holiday weekend will impact disease prevalence in our county. We continue to have incidence that is lower than the state of Colorado. … The state has a two-week cumulative incidence of 67 per 100,000 people, compared to 12 per 100,000 people in Routt County.”
The county’s COVID-19 data dashboard has not been updated since Sept. 6.
The new permanent county epidemiologist, Nicole Harty, started the job last week.
Because of the low sustained numbers, the county is getting closer to being able to move from the state’s “Safer at Home” phase to the “Protect Our Neighbors” phase.
“We believe we have hit all the eight metrics for the second two-week period in a row, which is great,” Commissioner Beth Melton said at the meeting. “The other required component of the application process is a suppression and mitigation plan, which has to be approved by not only the county but each of the municipalities and law enforcement agencies. We are working diligently on that plan, and we will not be eligible to apply until it is ready.”
The change in phases would mean more local autonomy in decision-making.
“This level allows for local solutions using a statewide, scientific approach,” according to the CDPHE. “For communities that qualify, it means more economic and social activity based on geographic differentiation, while ensuring public health and safety. If local communities are successful in controlling outbreaks locally, the state will not have to rely extreme statewide shutdowns.”
In terms of specific changes to state-mandated restrictions, it would mean “Communities may permit activities at 50% of pre-pandemic capacity, with at least 6 feet between non-household members and no more than 500 people in one setting at a time,” according to CDPHE.
Even if and when Routt County moves to that phase, “There is not any change in the behaviors and personal responsibilities we each have as individuals, we all will need to continue with the Five Commitments to Containment,” Melton said.
Following the meeting, the commissioners received an update on the results from the public survey conducted by the county’s Office of Community Engagement from July 28 to Aug. 19. A total of 925 people responded to the online survey, with 78.9% of those residing in Steamboat. The respondents covered a range of ages, though more than 80% were over 40.
- 61.5% of respondents said they knew someone who had COVID-19 (located anywhere), while 38.8% said they knew someone who had been hospitalized or died
- 18.6% responded they think they may have had COVID-19 at an earlier date
- Asked if business or employment had been lost during the COVID-19 crisis, 54.8% said “no,” and 31.4% said “yes”
- 7.5% of those surveyed reported being on unemployment, while 52.1% said they did not qualify and 18.6% received business loans
- 10.7% of respondents said they needed mental health services during the pandemic
During the meeting, Harrington noted that according to the Unacast score, “Routt County resident mobility has decreased significantly in the past month.”
Of those surveyed, 61.1% said they had not traveled out of state during the pandemic. Of the 38.9% who did travel out of state, 56.5% said they did not limit interactions or self-isolate upon returning home.
Asked to score on a scale of 1 (the least) to 5 (the most), 49.1% of respondents marked either a 4 or 5 on the question of whether they felt comfortable eating outdoors at a restaurant.
One whether they felt comfortable eating indoors, 53.3% marked a “1.”
Asked whether they would get the COVID-19 vaccine when made available, 58.1% of those surveyed answered “yes,” 13% “no,” and 28.9% “maybe.”
The survey also included several questions about the flu shot, and an opportunity to comment on what information they would need to consider before getting one.
Almost 80% of respondents said they were planning to get a flu shot.
The survey also provided a forum to add other comments for commissioners. Of the 479 comments, the opinions varied widely.
“Let’s not destroy all small business,” one person commented. “The amount of tourism we already have is exhausting but most small business depends on it. Do not close the town again. Be safe but realistic. Set your political views aside and make logical decisions that benefit the people, businesses, and residents of Routt County.”
Another wrote, “I am generally supportive of the tourist based economy but it needs to be severely limited during the pandemic.”
Many advocated for more personal freedom, while many others expressed strong support for the county’s relatively stringent approach. Visitors generated significant concerns among those who commented.
“I understand the concern for local businesses thriving however there seem to be a lot of tourists here for a pandemic time,” another person wrote. “The visitors do not take precautions seriously and are putting us all at risk. I’m a nurse at the hospital here and am very concerned. We need to decide what is more important. Our people or our money.”
Another stated, “I realize the navigation of this pandemic has been difficult and beyond anything we have seen in my years on this earth. But I believe the Commissioners have not made the best decisions, in fact, decisions that have been detrimental to our county, community and specifically small businesses.”
Some supported masks, some called them an overreach and ineffective.
The comments were divided on schools as well.
“Opening schools is not safe,” one commenter wrote. “We are asked to not gather in large groups, but we are opening schools? This makes no sense. Not safe and big mistake.”
Another stated, “Let the kids go back to school, more damage is being done by not letting them back in school.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Running out of gas while traveling from Denver to Steamboat Springs just might have saved Mac Stilec’s life.