Routt County appoints permanent public health director, hires epidemiologists
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Commissioners appointed a permanent public health director Tuesday and hired several new personnel to enhance the local public health department.
This comes as the commissioners allocate some pandemic-related funding from the state and federal government to expand its public health capabilities.
Roberta Smith, who has been working as the interim director for the last month, has agreed to remain in the position on a permanent basis. Smith has more than 20 years of experience in the field. She coordinated the influenza immunization program for the Colorado Department of Health & Environment from 1999 to 2007 and served as the occupational health manager for the department.
Most recently, she worked with a company called Cority Axion Health, where she conducted webinars on proper cleaning and disinfecting practices against COVID-19 and on contact tracing strategies. She left that job to take the county position.
Smith said her former experience and connections she has maintained with members of the state health department maker her an ideal candidate for the director position.
“My background really seems to fit well with what the community needs,” she said.
On Tuesday, the commissioners also announced the hiring of two epidemiologists to improve the public health department during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Dr. Fritha Morrison will work on a temporary basis to build a better data system to track the virus. Morrison is a senior research assistant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She has spent much of her career in data management, according to the news release.
Nicole Harty will be the county’s permanent epidemiologist. Her most recent job was as a program evaluator at the Mental Health Center of Denver.
Both Harty and Morrison will conduct investigations into COVID-19 cases and outbreaks and assess existing public health programs, among other duties. They report to the public health director.
The county also is in the process of hiring a public health nurse and a health educator to help the public understand recommendations and guidelines.
“Having those resources will broaden our partnerships and visibility within the community,” Smith said.
Under Smith’s leadership, the area has seen a downward trend in weekly case counts over the last two weeks, according to an update Friday from Routt County Public Health Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington. The decline in cases moves the county from a high moderate virus spread to a moderate spread, he said, mirroring a similar downward trend across Colorado.
Of the 11 new COVID-19 cases identified in the county over the past two weeks, five were people in the 10 to 19 age range, according to Harrington. Two of the cases were in the 20 to 29 age range; three in the 30 to 39 range and one in the 50 to 59 range. The majority of new cases being among younger people also reflects state and national trends, Harrington said.
In other hiring news, the two finalists for the Routt County manager position will join Steamboat Springs Deputy City Manager Tom Leeson and community leaders for a discussion at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The public can watch a live stream of the discussion on the county’s Facebook page.
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