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Routt County has 3rd highest COVID incidence rate in Colorado

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.

Most cases are among the unvaccinated, including children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine. The case incidence rate for school-aged children, those between age 5 and 18, is roughly double the rate of the rest of the county’s population.

“Our case incidence is increasing exponentially; our positivity is increasing exponentially,” said Routt County epidemiologist Nicole Harty. “Since late July, our case counts have been doubling about every 20 days.”



In the past seven days, there have been 136 new COVID-19 infections in Routt County, an increase of 40 cases from the seven days before that. Incidence rate is more than just a case count as it takes into consideration the county’s population. It is calculated by comparing number of cases to total population.

Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington said the county recently had its 22nd death because of the virus — an unvaccinated male in his 70s.

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Still, public health officials told commissioners Tuesday they cannot look at the case counts in the same way they did during spikes because of the county’s vaccination rate. Commissioners did not entertain adding a new public health order locally, and Public Health Director Roberta Smith said she would not anticipate an order unless the local hospital capacity was threatened.

Cases have sharply increased among those of school age since school started at the end of August, but schools are playing a different role in the county’s most recent spike than they played in cases last spring.

“Last school year, the general story with disease transmission between schools and the broader community was that adults were exposing kids outside of school, and then those kids were potentially exposing other kids in school settings,” Harty said. “So far this year, the story seems to be that kids are being exposed in school settings, often sports, and exposing their family and other community members after that.”

Harty said the incidence rate among children was around 1,400 cases per 100,000 people, meaning about 1.4% of all of the county’s children currently have COVID-19.

COVID-19 case incidence in school-aged children is roughly double the incidence rate of the rest of the Routt County population. During previous waves of the pandemic, children had a lower incidence rate, but this spike has been different. The orange line denotes case incidence for those between the ages of 5 and 18, and the blue line is the rate for the rest of residents.
Nicole Harty/Courtesy graphic

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommended that all schools and districts in the state institute masking for all students late last week but stopped short of a mandate. On Monday, Routt County commissioners criticized state health officials for the move, saying it showed a “lack of backbone.”

That announcement also curtailed guidance that had allowed counties with high vaccination rates to have looser quarantine protocols in school, a perk Routt County had previously been eligible for.

“Our goal is to keep kids in school,” Smith said. “Now, schools and individuals kind of need to step up if they want to help with that goal.”

To return to more lax quarantine guidelines, the percentage of staff and students eligible for the vaccine who are vaccinated must exceed 80%, Smith said. She said public health has offered to pull that data for districts to determine school vaccination rates, but only the Steamboat Springs School District has requested that so far.

Smith said she didn’t believe any district had reached that threshold.

If that level of vaccination were achieved, students and staff would not need to quarantine because of a typical classroom exposure. Without that higher level of vaccination, quarantines depend on the situation.

If both the postive COVID-19 case and contact are masked, there is no need for the contact to quarantine. If a close contact is fully vaccinated, they do not need to quarantine regardless of masking. Quarantining can also be limited if at least 70% of the school is participating in frequent testing for the virus.

Someone who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate for at least 10 days, and a negative test cannot get them out early, local health officials reiterated.

Most positive case exposure has been among known contacts, either at home or in school-related settings, Harty said. A vast majority of cases among school-aged children are related to a school activity. The largest share of recent cases has been from South Routt, which has the lowest vaccination rate in the county.

Routt County Public Health is currently working to get some new contact tracers on board to help track close contacts of positive cases, but Harty said there are so many cases it can be difficult to keep up.

“I would say that there is some amount of increase that is related to how we aren’t able to reach everyone as quickly as we would like right now,” Harty said.

The local positivity rate is as high as it has ever been at nearly 12%, according to data shared Tuesday. Harty said this is an indication that more people should be getting tested.

Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington said none of the people who have ended up at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center recently have been vaccinated. Local hospital capacity is not in danger of being overrun at this point, but Harrington said there are instances where it is difficult to transfer a patient to another hospital because of the stress on the state’s capacity as a whole.

Because of the delta variant, people who are unvaccinated are of a greater risk to get the virus now than they ever have been, Harrington said. One thing he said local medical professionals have never seen is someone seeking hospitalization because of vaccination.

“We don’t see people coming into our clinics or our (emergency room) because of some problem with the vaccine. No one has died because of the vaccine. We have not hospitalized anyone from the vaccine,” Harrington said. “The equation is crystal clear — the vaccine is protective. That is why we are at a different risk conversation today than we would have been a year ago.”


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