COVID-19 recovery update: Routt County still not eligible for Protect our Neighbors phase but is expanding health capacity, staff |

COVID-19 recovery update: Routt County still not eligible for Protect our Neighbors phase but is expanding health capacity, staff

Routt County Interim Public Health Director, Roberta Smith, accepted the permanent director position, according to a news release on Tuesday. This comes as the county expands its public health department to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
File photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While Routt County still does not qualify for the next phase of recovery under the COVID-19 pandemic, officials are working to enhance local health services to further ease restrictions.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released the application for the Protect Our Neighbors phase of reopening Tuesday, July 7, but most counties remain ineligible for it, according to Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton. 

“I’m not aware of any counties that are preparing to apply in the short term,” Melton said of the Protect Our Neighbors phase.

She is leading the local recovery effort, which recently has focused on expanding pubic health capacity and drafting a plan for a potential resurgence of the virus.

Under the Protect Our Neighbors phase — the third step in the state’s recovery plan — anything could open at 50% capacity or with a maximum of 500 people as long as groups remain 6 feet apart.

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Currently, Routt County remains in the Safer At Home phase, which allows events and businesses to operate at 50% capacity or a maximum of 100 people indoors and 175 outdoors, whichever is fewer. Businesses, venues and event organizers also must have a mitigation protocol in place that follows state and local guidelines. 

Before applying for the next phase, Melton said the county needs to meet the eight criteria established by the state health department, such as establishing sufficient testing capacity and recording fewer new cases.

Eight criteria for Protect Our Neighbors phase
  1. Sufficient hospital bed capacity
  2. Sufficient PPE supply
  3. Stable or declining COVID-19 hospitalizations
  4. Fewer new cases
  5. Sufficient testing capacity
  6. Ability to implement case investigation and contact tracing protocol
  7. Documented surge-capacity plan for case investigation and contact tracing
  8. Documented strategies to offer testing to close contacts

Source: Colorado Department of Health & Environment

$2.2 million grant from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund is helping the county and area municipalities in these efforts. The county’s highest priority for its portion of the funding is to expand the Routt County Public Health Department, according to Melton. It currently is in the process of hiring a new public health director following the announcement that the current director, Kari Ladrow, is resigning to work full-time leading Moffat County’s public health department.

The county also has been hiring contact tracers to help identify people who may have been exposed to the virus, Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. Previously, a group of volunteers did this work. As the demands of the service expanded, the county decided it needed to hire new staff.

“I feel like we are moving very quickly to beef up the capacity of our public health department,” Corrigan said. “In the event of a spike in cases, I feel pretty confident we will have the ability to do the necessary contact tracing and isolation.”

Testing capacity remains a challenge, Corrigan added. Results have been taking as long as six days to come back, which makes it difficult to control the spread of the virus. The commissioner believes the delay mainly is due to a broader increase in cases across the state, which has laboratories struggling to keep up. By the end of this weekend, Colorado had seen its highest level of cases since May, with 2,743 new cases in the second week of July.

Routt County identified four new positive cases on Tuesday, according to a news release. The number of cases has been increasing by about 5.3% per day. In the last month, 21 people have tested positive in the county.

On Wednesday, the commissioners will meet as the Routt County Board of Health to draft new travel recommendations in an attempt to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Among the proposed recommendations are avoiding travel to places with a high disease prevalence, called hotspots, and getting tested if people were in a risky situation, exposed to a positive case or if they have symptoms.

To schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 test in Routt County, call 970-870-5577.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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