Routt County will still follow COVID-19 dial metrics, restrictions after state ends dial next week

Officials say they may reconsider local mask mandate if vaccination rates exceed 60% by end of May

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County will continue to use the state of Colorado’s COVID-19 dial framework after the state ends its own use of the dial next week, according to the Routt County Board of Health.

The dial is expected to be changed at the state level April 16, when it would become guidance rather than an order required to be followed by counties. However, instead of relaxing these restrictions, local officials plan to adopt them into the local public health order, keeping the metrics and restrictions for each level of the dial.

The move comes as Routt County’s COVID-19 case levels have plateaued at a higher level than the rest of the state. Across Colorado, officials are seeing increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, even as everyone over the age of 16 is now eligible to get the vaccine within the state. Still, Gov. Jared Polis is poised to turn over control of COVID-19 guidelines to local governments.

“Cases are increasing in our state,” said Roberta Smith, Routt County Public Health director, referring to data shared during a meeting with state health officials. “We’re seeing hospitalizations increase, but the age groups where those hospitalizations are increasing statewide are in our less than 60 population.”

There were 34 new cases in the most recent week in Routt County, slightly down from last week’s 37 cases but an increase from the 33 cases seen two weeks ago.

“It doesn’t seem like we are moving in the right direction,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist. “Positivity has increased, and that is a sign of moving in the wrong direction.”

Test positivity has increased by one percentage point in the last week, rising to 4.3%. This is still within the lowest level of metrics on the dial for case positivity. Other mountain communities also are seeing elevated levels, and some counties, including Pitkin and Summit, are now back to level orange restrictions. Routt County remains at level yellow.

Community spread, which is when the location where a person contracted COVID-19 cannot be determined, has increased and other sources of the virus have decreased. Harty said this is a sign they are not fully capturing and understanding the extent of disease spread in the community.

People should continue to get tested for COVID-19 if they are showing any symptoms of the virus, even if someone believes they are just experiencing allergies, Harty said. The county intends to host free testing this weekend at the Routt County Fairgrounds in Hayden.

It’s still a “tug-of-war” between vaccines and variants right now, Harty added. Vaccination eligibility was opened up to everyone age 16 and older last week, and 34% of Routt County residents eligible to get the vaccine are fully vaccinated.

Routt County Resident Vaccination Data

All ages, first dose: 11,917 or 46%

All ages, fully vaccinated: 7,415 or 29%

70+, first dose: 2,178 or 84%

70+, fully vaccinated: 2,078 or 80%

16+, first dose: 11,917 or 55%

16+, fully vaccinated: 7,415 or 34%

Note: The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is just one dose, and those vaccinations are included in both the first dose and fully vaccinated numbers.

“State epidemiology reports and modeling do suggest that more transmissible variants are taking hold in Colorado,” Harty said. “Routt County is not seeing as high of a prevalence of those more transmissible variants as some other parts of the state, and that is good, but we are not an island.”

Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer, said cases among younger people are increasing, likely because of variants. People ages 40 to 64 make up the largest percentage of cases of any age group, he said.

“It remains this race of trying to get the bulk of our population immunized before we get into trouble with the spread of this fourth wave, and of course, the variants are to a large degree driving that,” Harrington said.

State modeling shows that if mask wearing and other preventative measures are lifted in mid-April, when Polis plans to make the dial just guidance, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths between April 1 and June 1 would be relatively high, Harrington said. But if restrictions are kept in place until the middle of May, Harrington said, the increases would be much smaller, and projections show it could prevent more than 1,000 deaths.

“It begs the question why it appears that the governor is moving in the direction of loosening these restrictions in light of this modeling (Harrington) just suggested, but I am sure he has his reasons,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said during the Routt County Board of Health meeting Wednesday morning.

Smith laid out a plan for the county that would continue to use the state’s dial framework until the end of June. This includes revisions to the local public health order next week before the state order changes. The plan would reevaluate the order at the end of May. At that time, officials may also reconsider the local mask mandate if vaccination rates for those over age 16 exceed 60%.

Smith said this timeline is flexible and won’t necessarily play out as she presented Wednesday. Restrictions could be loosened faster if metrics look good locally, she said, or they could increase restrictions in response to an increase in cases. Routt County isn’t alone either, as Smith said a lot of counties are opting to adopt the dial after the state stops requiring it.

“I would characterize this as being a cautious and responsible outlook on how we could move forward and reasonable given what we believe the trajectory is going to be with vaccinations,” Corrigan said.

The Board of Health has been meeting every other week but intends to hold a meeting next week to address changes to the county’s public health order.

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