Routt County extends public health order following recent COVID-19 cases in local restaurant, middle school
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a 2-1 vote Tuesday, the Routt County Board of Commissioners extended a local public health order as a way of controlling the spread of COVID-19.
The order, which remains in effect through Nov. 30, requires all businesses to have a mitigation plan to reduce the risk of viral outbreaks. It mandates the use of face coverings for all employees and customers 2 and older.
The commissioners loosened some restrictions, namely regarding gatherings or events at public and commercial spaces. Before, any gathering of more than 10 people required organizers to submit a self-certification form in addition to a mitigation protocol at least 15 days prior to the event. An amendment to the health order now allows gatherings of up to 25 people without a self-certification form.
The extension of the public health order comes a week after three employees of a local business tested positive for COVID-19, according to local public health officials. As Routt County Public Health Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington explained, the county is not requiring the business to shut down because the test results came back too late to act upon. The employees already had been isolating out of precaution, according to officials, and other staff members have been self-monitoring for any symptoms they might develop.
Harrington said the protocol would have been to temporarily shut down the business if the test results had arrived earlier. If more employees test positive, it could lead to a forced closure. The county is not releasing the name of the business where the employees work.
Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said the incident points the importance of reducing the wait time for COVID-19 tests. Results from the state health department have become increasingly delayed, currently with more than a four-day wait period.
“The quicker we can get this information, the quicker we can act,” Smith said.
She added that counties across Colorado are seeing an uptick in new cases for the fall, which experts predicted months before. Schools and universities have been particular problem areas. The University of Colorado Boulder switched to remote courses last week amid a spike in cases. Around the same time, the city of Boulder also instituted a two-week stay-at-home order for 36 off-campus properties, prohibiting gatherings of any size for residents between the ages of 18 and 22.
Last week, a student at Steamboat Springs Middle School tested positive for COVID-19. Officials required more than 40 people to self-quarantine in response, and no new cases have been reported at the school since, according to Smith.
Commissioner Beth Melton supported the extension of the public health order, arguing it aligns county mandates with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Commissioner Tim Corrigan agreed, echoing another of Melton’s points that the order helps to keep people safe and businesses open, albeit with reduced capacity.
“For economic recovery to take place, we need to first get this virus under control,” Corrigan said.
Commissioner Doug Monger opposed extending the health order, saying he does not believe it is necessary or effective.
“There’s no proof that this (public health order) got us to where we are at,” Monger said, referring to the county’s relatively low case count.
He argued that Rout County should let the state take over such matters rather than continue its own mandates. The commissioner also expressed concern over how pandemic-related restrictions have caused unintended consequences, such as mental health issues and higher suicide rates.
On Tuesday the commissioners submitted a request to the state to transition Routt County to Level 1 of the Safer-at-Home recovery phase, which would further reduce restrictions. The most notable changes would be an increase in capacity for things like personal gatherings, indoor and outdoor events, places of worship and group sports and camps.
Smith, the public health director, received confirmation Wednesday morning that the state health department had received the request, but no decision has been made.
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