Routt County reports 16 new COVID-19 cases as it works to control most recent spike
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County added 16 new positive cases of COVID-19 last week, down from a record 21 new cases the week before, but still the second highest total for any week since the start of the pandemic.
The combined total of 37 new cases over a two-week span is nearly double the limit of 19 new cases outlined in Level 1 of the state’s Safer at Home plan.
The new cases continue what some health officials have called the pandemic’s third wave. The cases also complicate mitigation efforts for a county working to control new cases and avoid further restrictions on businesses.
“Our wave is bigger this time compared to our last two. We don’t know where the peak is yet necessarily,” said Fritha Morrison, county epidemiologist.
The county is entering the second week of a four-week mitigation period where state and county health officials are working to chart out a way to get cases down, allowing the county to stay at Level 1. The county needs to communicate its intentions for mitigation efforts to the state by Friday.
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The effort has several layers including trying to limit the spread of the virus within workplaces, households and the community.
“Another place that we have seen our COVID transmission is workplaces — these are a lot of office-based workplaces,” said Roberta Smith, county public health director.
Smith suggested tightening restrictions on such businesses, only allowing them to have up to 25% of their capacity in the office. Commissioners ultimately decided not to do that.
Currently, office-based businesses are required to operate at below 50% capacity of employees in person, something commissioner Beth Melton said she doubts is being followed by all. Melton suggested calling businesses inquiring about compliance and educating them on the restriction before limiting the restriction further.
Scott Cowman, county environmental health director, said while the primary focus with business checks has been retail businesses, his staff is going into real estate offices and banks to ensure they are following restrictions and the businesses’ own mitigation plan.
“We talk about oversight, monitoring, outreach, education, but at what point do we actually move toward enforcement,” said commissioner Tim Corrigan. “I don’t think we want to enter into some kind of a police state, but I am fairly certain there are a number of people that flout our public health orders.”
Another aspect of the county’s mitigation is making clear when and how long someone should be quarantined when a member of their household comes down with COVID-19.
Two of the new cases are from household spread, meaning the virus was spread within a household, even as they tried to isolate.
If able, family members should isolate from each other if someone has COVID-19, according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines. In this instance, family members would quarantine for 14 days from the last time they had close contact.
“For the majority of our community, this is hard,” Smith said. “You’re sharing kitchens, you’re sharing bathrooms, and we are seeing people, families that are all testing positive for COVID and coming down with symptoms.”
If isolation is not possible, then family members must quarantine for 14 days as well, but that 14 days does not start until the person who is sick has had 10 days since symptoms first appeared, 24 hours without a fever and other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving, according to CDC guidelines.
This could require a family member of someone sick with COVID-19 to isolate for 24 or more days, which is easier for some than it is for others.
“I think this is an example how COVID exposes socioeconomic and racial inequities,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County Public Health medical officer. “For some of us, if we are quarantined at home, we can still do some work, but for many people, these kind of things totally erase their ability to work.”
Further limitations on gatherings were put in place by Gov. Jared Polis last week, limiting gatherings to just 10 people and no more than two households.
Smith emphasized that people need to actually be following the new guidance, especially when it comes to limiting the number of households involved in a gathering.
“When we look at some of our positive cases,” Smith said, “they had a dinner party, no one wore masks, they had people over, and they are positive, and their dinner guests got a parting gift of COVID.”
Last week, a student at Steamboat Mountain School tested positive, prompting all parents and students to be notified about the case Saturday. The student is part of the day student population and had been adhering to the school’s COVID-19 protocols.
The student and all close contacts are in quarantine.
County health officials are also urging residents to opt in to a new statewide COVID-19 exposure notification system, which was created in partnership with Google and Apple.
When opted in, smartphones share anonymous Bluetooth tokens when in close contact with another opted-in phone.
If a user is in contact with another user, who then tests positive within 14 days of the contact and uploads their results, they will receive a notification of the potential exposure.
These tokens are not associated with any phone number, name, location or IP address, and they change every 15 minutes to ensure security.
“It’s important for Coloradans to enable CO Exposure Notifications on your iPhone or Android to help save lives, to contain this deadly disease, protect your loved ones and to use every technological advantage we have against the virus,” Polis said in a news release Sunday.
To learn more about Colorado Exposure Notifications at addyourphone.com.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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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.