New COVID-19 cases decline for first time since October, but officials expect more cases from Thanksgiving
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County recorded 108 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, the first decrease in new cases from the previous week since October.
While this is a positive sign, health officials warned cases are still going up, and there are more cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings they are aware of.
“The numbers tell us it is going to be a while before restrictions can be relaxed,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist, at Wednesday’s Routt County Board of Public Health meeting. “It’s hard to stay away from friends and family. It’s hard to do all the things that we need to do to mitigate spread. We need to push on.”
It is too early to say the decrease in weekly cases is a trend, especially because it was a holiday week. On a call with the Gov. Jared Polis Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned of a “surge upon a surge” the country could be facing because of holiday gatherings.
There were 256 new cases in the past two weeks, just one more case than the previous two weeks, though that number is expected to rise as more cases from the past week are included in the data.
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Fauci said a vaccine is on the way, and Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer, said he anticipates beginning to vaccinate people by the third or fourth week of December.
County epidemiologist Fritha Morrison said part of the decrease in cases this week is possibly due to a change in testing last week, with very few tests being taken on Thursday and Friday.
Harty said she often tells people “community health means community behavior,” trying to emphasize that the actions people choose to take are going to affect the whole community.
Brooke Maxwell, Routt County public health nurse, said the county is already seeing several cases because of decisions that residents made to host a gathering or to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday. There also have been instances of people who were on quarantine hosting a gathering.
“This disease process is affecting everybody very differently. You personally might not get very sick, but you very well could transmit the disease to someone that is going to end up hospitalized,” Maxwell said, emphasizing new deaths that have brought the county’s total to 14.
Maxwell said several businesses have contacted public health when they have a positive test result and cooperated with quarantining and testing procedures.
“It takes the entire community,” Maxwell said. “This is definitely a responsible thing to do, and you as a business owner are assisting us in stopping the spread of the disease.”
The county has added a form on its COVID-19 page where residents and businesses can report potential outbreaks. Harty said people should not be worried about whether their gathering was an outbreak, but rather should err on the side of caution and let public health decide.
“We think it is really going to help public health in identifying outbreaks and responding to them quickly,” Harty said. “We really think this will help expedite our outbreak investigations and will help us mitigate disease transmission as outbreaks arise.”
Harrington said there is a long list of things to be thankful for that have allowed health officials to better find and treat COVID-19.
There are more therapeutic treatments for the virus that are available in the county now than there were a few months ago. The infection mortality rate also has declined over time, a trend seen across the world, he said.
“While we are seeing escalating hospitalizations, we are also learning how better to sort out who needs to be in the hospital,” Harrington said. “We are actually treating more people with more serious disease as outpatients.”
Rapid antigen testing also has allowed health professionals to know if someone has the virus faster, Harrington said, helping people to take better precautions to avoid spreading the virus.
“We’re all in this together in Routt County. We’re all in this together in Colorado, we’re all in this together with all of our loved ones,” Harty said. “We can do this; it is going to take all of us.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Routt County’s COVID-19 incidence rate is increasing exponentially and is now among the top three in Colorado behind only Moffat and Kit Carson counties.