Routt County to move to level yellow; weekly cases reach lowest mark since October
Editor’s Note: After this article was published, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment approved Routt County’s request to move to level yellow. The story was updated to reflect these changes at 3:45 p.m.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Health approved sending a letter to state health officials Wednesday asking to be moved to level yellow on the state’s COVID-19 dial.
The move was then approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shortly after the meeting, and the county will be moved to level yellow at 6 a.m. Friday.
Under level yellow, capacities in restaurants, non-critical manufacturing, gyms, fitness centers and indoor events and entertainment will increase to 50%, up from 25% under level orange. Capacity in offices will also increase to 50%, but remote work is still strongly encouraged.
Before approval from the state, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said she was confident it would be approved because the county’s metrics have been in level yellow for a week.
UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center also provided a letter saying it believes it can continue to meet the medical needs of the community if it were moved to level yellow, which was the final piece the county needed to apply for the move.
“So Roberta (Smith), the presumption here is our numbers are in a good place, they are headed in the right direction, and you and your group are comfortable with us making this move into yellow,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan asked during Wednesday’s meeting.
“We are,” Smith replied.
The county has now been within level yellow metrics on the dial for just over a week, and new cases have hit their lowest mark since October, according to the county’s dashboard that was updated Tuesday. There were 42 new cases in the most recent week, and test positivity remains around 5%.
“Our incidence is decreasing, our positivity has a slight increase, more or less stable, our hospitalizations are stable, and it seems like we are on an overall good trend,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist.
Testing for COVID-19 has continued to decrease throughout February. On Feb. 1, the county was averaging 219 tests each day, but that has dropped to 112 tests a day Sunday.
“That is not too much of a concern given that our positivity is remaining relatively stable. We’re keeping an eye on things,” Harty said.
Harty said toward the end of last week the county did start to see a slight increase in cases, though the most recent week saw 24 fewer cases than the prior week. This increase is to be expected, she said, as people return from school break and more have been traveling. She also noted the county loosened some restrictions last week by altering its public health order.
About 17% of new cases in the past two weeks were tied to just two outbreaks, and 13% of cases since the beginning of the month can be traced back to just four outbreaks, Harty said.
“This is likely how we’re going to see our case trends move with increased vaccination combined with continuing to follow good mitigation strategies,” Harty said. “We’re going to see disease in our community, and it is likely it is going to be concentrated in outbreaks.”
On Tuesday, the county submitted an application for the 5 Star Certification program to state health officials for approval. It is being reviewed Wednesday, and Smith said she hopes to hear by Thursday what, if any, changes need to be made.
If approved, certified businesses would not be able to immediately open at level blue capacities. Changes to the dial made earlier this month require the state to have vaccinated 70% of people 70 and older before the benefits of the program at level yellow can be realized. The state hopes to reach that goal by Monday.
Routt County has already reached that threshold, having vaccinated 76% of those over 70 years old. Roughly 1 in 5 Routt County residents have gotten the first shot of the vaccine.
Harty said modeling from the Colorado School of Public Health suggests that in the most optimistic scenarios, Colorado could reach herd immunity in the mid- to late-summer. If a more infectious variant of the virus took hold, however, that would likely not happen until fall.
Because of variants like B.1.1.7, which has been shown to be more transmissible, Harty said people need to keep heeding the county’s commitments to containment.
“If we don’t maintain those transmission controls, we could potentially breach ICU and hospital capacity,” Harty said. “If we keep doing all the things we have been doing, we should be able to manage any of the unknowns that are in our future.”
Because of the decline in cases, the Routt County Board of Health agreed at the end of the meeting to return to an every other week schedule, rather than weekly as it has done for several months. The next meeting will be March 10, but the board may convene before then if deemed appropriate.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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