COVID surges in Routt County |

COVID surges in Routt County

COVID-19 cases in Routt County have exploded with 198 new cases over the past two weeks and 158 of those in the past seven days.

Though most positive tests are awaiting confirmation from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said the omicron variant is likely responsible for the county’s sharp increase.

At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its recommendations to say those who test positive for the virus can reduce their time in isolation from 10 days to five, as long as they are asymptomatic on day five, and that should be followed by an additional five days of wearing a mask around others.

Days after the CDC recommended the change, CDPHE adopted it.

According to the new guidelines, anyone who has received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in the past two months, or who has received a booster dose, does not need to quarantine following an exposure, but they should still wear a mask for 10 days.

“Generally, you’re most infectious those first three days or so when you’re infected,” Smith said of the new guidance. “What we’re finding is people’s symptoms are resolving faster with this new variant, especially if you’re vaccinated.”

After the CDC first announced the changes, several national public health leaders criticized the move as being more business friendly than based on science.

“I don’t think there’s any big change in science that justifies a change in guidance,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, told NBC News. The guidance “has much more to do with societal function than to do with science.”

In response, the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, have defended the new guidelines and said they are necessary to get people back to work.

Smith said the new recommendations will help in Routt County, because many local businesses have dealt with staffing shortages, and the shorter isolation times will allow employees to return to work faster if they are no longer experiencing symptoms.

“We had staffing shortages to begin with, even without this variant circulating, and now we’re feeling the pinch of that with workers being out due to COVID,” Smith said.

Though Routt County’s cases have increased, the local vaccination rate remains higher than the national average with 87% of county residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine and 74% having received at least two doses as of Tuesday, Dec. 28.

Because of the county’s high vaccine rates, Eli Nykamp, director of operations and COVID-19 incident commander at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, said the hospital is concerned but not panicked about being overcrowded with COVID-19 patients.

“The booster seems to be very effective at preventing hospitalization,” Nykamp said. “Our biggest concern right now is keeping our staff healthy and being able to offer services to all our patients.”

Still, with cases going up as much as they have been, Nykamp said hospital staff do expect to see more severe infections.

“The testing numbers are going way, way up, so any time that denominator goes up, we’re going to expect to see some hospitalizations,“ Nykamp said. ”It’s something we have to be prepared for.“

Nykamp did not have specific data, but he believes the hospital is currently testing more people for COVID-19 now than at any point in the pandemic, which has forced extra staff to work over the holidays and made it more difficult to get a test.

“I think at some point, everyone seems to be getting omicron,” Nykamp said. “One way or another, we’re going to reach some level of immunity.”

Routt County still does free testing outside Strings Music Pavillion. In order to avoid long lines, Smith asked those wanting to test to register using the QR code at

Smith said the county does not plan to institute another mask mandate, though they are encouraging everyone to wear masks indoors without being required to do so.

“We are relying on people to be socially responsible,” Smith said.

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