Rising COVID-19 cases in Routt County an exception to trend across Colorado
Editor’s Note: Routt County Epidemiologist Nicole Harty misspoke about the state’s seven-day incidence rate on Wednesday. The state rate is about 230 cases per 100,000 people, about double the rate of Routt County.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While COVID-19 is trending in the right direction in Colorado, Routt County is an exception, as the local test positivity rate of 7.87% is among the highest in the state — rivaling previous highs from November.
When it comes to case incidence, Routt County is sixth worst in the state. When filtering out eastern plains counties with low populations, the only counties with worse case incidence are Gunnison and Pitkin.
“Things have been coming down for the last 10 days for the state as a whole, and we are seeing quite the opposite,” said Nicole Harty, county epidemiologist. “What we are experiencing here in Routt County is very different from what the story is for the state as a whole.”
There were 142 new cases in the most recent week, a slight increase from the week before, pushing two-week case totals to the highest mark yet. Statewide, there are about 230 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, but in Routt County that number is more than 550.
Local test positivity is nearly 8%, just below a previous high of 8.5% in November. The elevated rate is despite strong testing numbers that Harty said are some of the highest yet after there was less testing during the holidays.
Routt County added another COVID-19 related death this week bringing the total to 19 since the start of the pandemic as there have been more than 400,000 Americans lost to the virus.
When looking at ski resort counties, only Pitkin, Gunnison and Routt are having surges, while others, primarily along the Interstate 70 corridor, are seeing a similar trend as the state overall, said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer.
This could be because places like Steamboat, Aspen and Crested Butte are seen as destination ski areas more than those closer to the interstate. Still, Harty said case transmission cannot be solely attributed to visitors, because spread is primarily happening within the community.
Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said Northwest Colorado has an R0 value of 1.2 while the rest of the state is below 1. R0, pronounced “R naught,” is a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. A value over one means each person infected with the virus is on average spreading it to more than one other person.
“When we look at our data and break down our data, yes, we have visitors, but as Nicole mentioned, a lot of it is the activities of our residents,” Smith said. “We’re just not seeing the numbers of visitors that are really impacting our disease prevalence that much.”
The main source of new cases has been known contacts, both from household spread and social gatherings. Smith said contact tracers have occasionally run out of space on the form because the person had so many different contacts with people prior to testing positive for COVID-19.
In many cases, there are so many contacts it becomes really difficult to figure out where the cases came from, Harty said. She added public health has seen cases in recent weeks of sick patrons at a restaurant passing the virus to several employees.
“This is an example about how the behaviors of our community members impact our businesses,” Harty said.
These behaviors are having an impact on schools, too, which have seen several groups of students quarantined since returning from break, she said. Recent quarantines in the Steamboat Springs School District have impacted nearly 200 students and about 30 staff.
In the Hayden School District, the entire seventh-grade class needed to quarantine after a positive case last week, and five more students were quarantined Monday after being exposed over the weekend, according to Superintendent Christy Sinner. No staff members were required to quarantine because they wear additional protective equipment, such as KN-95 masks, while in the classroom.
“Interacting outside of your household is riskier now than it was in December,” Harty said.
Harrington said he anticipates the increase in COVID-19 cases will continue for the next few weeks before it starts decreasing again.
“We are still seeing a significant amount of disease prevalence in our community, and that is going up,” Commissioner Beth Melton said. “I know it’s a broken record, but the things we need to do are still the things we need to do.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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