New COVID-19 cases decline in Routt County but remain high among ski resort counties
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — New cases of COVID-19 in Routt County declined this week, but counties that are home to destination ski resorts continue to have much higher case incidence than Colorado as a whole.
The previous seven days saw 109 new cases, down from a record 170 new cases the week prior. While cases are decreasing, health officials said Wednesday during the weekly Routt County Board of Health meeting that it is too early to call it a trend, and test positivity remains above 8% locally.
“Are we moving in the right direction? Maybe,” Routt County epidemiologist Nicole Harty said. “While this most recent week is lower, it is still quite high in comparison to where we want to be.”
Harty said several upcoming celebratory events, such as the Super Bowl and President’s Day weekend, could trigger another increase in cases.
“These upcoming events are precisely the type of holidays and things that contributed to our sharp increase in cases in January, which is what we learned from our case investigations,” Harty said.
Harty warned gatherings could quickly erase the decrease in cases seen in the past week, potentially even leading to another new high of cases. Of cases the county public health department has been investigating related to travel, Harty said most of these involve international travel to warm destinations.
“We really need our incidence rate to be much lower in order to prevent the school and business disruptions that we have been seeing because of the large quarantines and multi-day business closures,” Harty said.
Routt County Public Health Director Robert Smith said state health officials have shared mobility data for Routt, Gunnison, Pitkin and San Miguel counties that shows overnight visitors in these counties are spending more time in restaurants than the state as a whole.
New provisions in the local public health order require restaurants to have guests wear a mask when not actively eating and drinking as well as trying to limit how long people linger in a restaurant through updates to their mitigation plans. The order also limits gatherings to people of the same household, in an attempt to reduce spread. Gathering restrictions apply to restaurants and lodging as well as in someone’s home.
“Hopefully, we will address that issue of folks lingering in restaurants without masks on,” Smith said. “The Super Bowl is coming up, and we don’t want that to be a super-spreader event.”
State mobility data, which uses cellphone data to understand how much people are moving around, reveals that overnight visitors in counties with ski resorts are having more contact with other people than the state as a whole. When looking at residents of the same counties, locals are spending less time in restaurants, more time at home and are having less contact with others than the state as a whole.
“Our locals tend to do a good job of kind of staying within their bubble,” Smith said.
State health officials have released a draft version of changes to the state dial framework that could go into effect later this week. The changes do not adjust any capacity limits but switch to using a seven-day incidence rate as opposed to the 14-day metric.
The adjustment is meant to allow counties to move between levels faster, so when places are doing well, they can loosen restrictions more quickly, and if cases start to rise, restrictions can be tightened again.
Smith said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will meet with local public health officials Thursday to discuss feedback on the new dial. Smith said she anticipates an official announcement of changes Friday.
Even when the new dial becomes official, it doesn’t really change much for Routt County in the short term. On the current dial, cases put the county in level red, but it is operating at level orange restrictions. The new dial places the county within metrics for level orange, and it would continue to operate with those restrictions plus some additional measures in the local public health order.
“Nothing will change unless there are significant changes from what they had proposed to us this weekend,” Commissioner Beth Melton said.
The new local public health order is slated to remain in place the entire month of February, and Melton said that even if the county moves on the dial, that order will still be in place unless commissioners decide to change it.
“Even with that significant increase in (case counts) permitted (in the new dial), we will still be in orange, which gives you a good idea of how high our numbers still are,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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