Routt County sees drop in COVID-19 cases, encourages vigilance
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is going well in Routt County, public health experts said during this week’s Board of Health meeting.
Their update came as welcome news to the Routt County Board of Commissioners after months of bleak updates.
Case counts are relatively low, with three new cases this week compared with five cases last week and six the week before that, according to the county’s new, temporary epidemiologist, Dr. Fritha Morrison. This reflects a similar drop in cases statewide.
“This is a good week,” Morrison said of the trend.
That said, health experts reiterated the importance of continuing to follow guidelines, such as wearing face coverings, limiting gatherings and maintaining 6 feet of social distance. Commissioner Tim Corrigan has heard from some people in the community who question why they need to keep up these practices when there is such a low prevalence of the virus.
As Routt County Public Health Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington said, it is hard to appreciate the efficacy of public health initiatives because their purpose is to prevent the spread of disease. The very arguments people make for shirking guidelines are the same ones that prove those guidelines are working.
“We are a victim of our own success,” Harrington said.
Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith added that a virus as contagious as COVID-19 could quickly get out of hand if people do not remain vigilant. Just one positive case could spread quickly and exponentially.
“Just because we have a few cases one week, we don’t know what will happen next week,” Smith said.
It, therefore, worries them to see and hear about people getting lax with health guidelines. Commissioner Doug Monger described seeing several large gatherings as he drove around the county last weekend.
With the school year underway and flu season approaching, it is counterintuitive to increase the risk of an outbreak, Harrington said. He mentioned how his hometown in Nebraska had navigated the pandemic relatively well with only about four cases until a wedding occurred there three weeks ago. Since then, about 30 cases have been reported in the town, all attributed to the wedding.
“This virus is explosive,” Harrington said.
Outbreak status at The Haven
The Haven, an assisted living facility in Hayden, has gone two weeks without any new positive cases, according to Smith. This comes as more good news, considering the facility filed for outbreak status after a surge in cases in July that resulted in the death of two residents.
Being virus-free for two weeks is the primary factor in removing an outbreak status. The county is waiting to hear from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment about whether the outbreak officially is resolved.
In a statement, Adrienne Idsal, The Haven’s director, said the virus will have a lasting impact on the senior living facility. She and her staff are committed to providing quality care and protecting residents as best as they can.
“The outbreak we experienced over this past month was incredibly trying for everyone involved,” Idsal said. “We continue to grieve the loss of our two beloved residents. It means the world to know we have a strong community that backs us, especially as we enter the unknown territory of what lies ahead.”
New testing plan
During Wednesday’s meeting, the county’s public health director also unveiled a new COVID-19 testing plan for the rest of August and September. It takes into account more recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and improved testing capacity at the state health department.
- People with signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19
- Asymptomatic people with recent known or suspected exposure to COVID-19 to control transmission
- Asymptomatic people without known or suspected exposure to COVID-19 for early identification for public health surveillance purposes
- People being tested for purposes of public health surveillance for COVID-19
Source: Routt County Public Health
Smith plans to increase community testing, offering the service on Tuesday in addition to the usual Wednesday schedule. The free testing is meant for people without health insurance, she added, so people with insurance should go to their medical provider or a local clinic for testing.
A second goal of the updated plan is to become eligible for the next phase of the recovery process, known as Protect Our Neighbors. The phase comes with looser restrictions, such as allowing larger gatherings and more capacity at businesses. Another requirement to progress to the next phase is the ability to handle a surge in cases, something Smith said the county currently is able to do.
It remains unclear when Routt County will be able to reach the Protect Our Neighbors Phase, but the commissioners consider it yet another reason to keep following the health guidelines.
“Don’t give up on the ship yet,” Monger said. “We need to keep paddling.”
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Twenty months after the South Routt School District announced it would close because of a burgeoning coronavirus, COVID-19 is more prevalent in South Routt than ever before.