Routt, other ski resort counties, seeing sustained decline of COVID-19 cases
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — New cases of COVID-19 declined last week in Routt County for the second straight week as mountain towns like Steamboat Springs are starting to see declining cases.
There were 101 new cases of COVID-19 in the county last week, down by seven cases from the prior week. The state’s new Dial 2.0 is now measuring case incidences for a one-week period rather than a two-week span.
“We might be moving in the right direction,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist. “We are in a pretty similar spot to where we were last week.
After nearing a 10% positivity rate late last month, it has since dipped to about 6.7%. Still, Harty said it is too early to tell if there will be more cases coming from gatherings around the Super Bowl or if the new public health order has had its desired effect.
“I think we will start to see an impact from our public health order starting early next week,” Harty said. “It’s really too soon for me to say if we are at this plateau point or if we are going to continue to decline.”
While cases have been declining, the county is in a similar spot in terms of cases as the spike experienced in November. Harty said she wants to see the numbers continue to decrease before she would consider the county in a “good spot.”
More cases are being attributed to community spread, meaning case investigations did not identify a source of the cases. Harty said this is indicative of both the high prevalence of virus in the community currently, but also an increase in visitor activity.
There also are more instances of asymptomatic people testing positive for COVID-19, Harty said, a sign they are testing more of those people. While the county does not test asymptomatic people, many other providers in Routt County do. Harty attributes this to changes in quarantine guidelines that allow people to get out of quarantine after seven days if they have a negative test.
Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer, added that with the exception of Grand County, counties with ski resorts across the state are now in a sustained decline of cases.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said the county board has received a lot of communication from constituents concerned about long lines and large crowds at Steamboat Resort over the weekend, but local public health officials chose not to address the issue directly during the meeting, instead speaking broadly about community spread of cases.
Commissioner Beth Melton said anecdotally, it seems like a lot of locals are going on vacation, which could increase with upcoming breaks from school for students. About 10% of cases in the past week were attributed to travel, relatively lower than other sources.
Still, a high number of those cases are attributed to travel, sometimes internationally, to warm places, Harty said. Just prior to the spike that started in late October and November, cases attributed to travel among residents were over 40%.
“Travel to other communities is what helped us start that big jump that we had in October as well,” said Fritha Morrison, an epidemiologist for the county.
Harrington said new modeling shared on a call with state health officials Wednesday projects that by April disease prevalence could return to levels similar to over the summer when Routt County was routinely reporting single digit cases in a week.
While this modeling does take into account vaccinations, it does not factor in the potential of a COVID-19 variant spreading rapidly in Colorado.
State health officials have found 43 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and 17 cases of the L452R variant in the state, with one case of the latter being identified in Routt County.
Variants become concerning when they transmit easier, cause a more serious case of the virus, are able to flout current diagnostic testing or become resistant to vaccines or other treatments. While B.1.1.7 has been shown to spread easier, which is why it is classified as a variant of concern, L452R has not and is considered a variant under investigation.
Harrington explained there are two ways a variant can become predominant. One way, called the founder effect, means that a variant came here first and spread in the absence of other variants. Another way is that a variant can be transmitted to other people easier, giving it an advantage over other variants.
While some variants have been reported to lower the effectiveness of vaccines, Harrington said this does not mean effects of the vaccine are erased, as they are still highly effective at preventing severe disease.
“Yes, we got to see where this goes, but it is not going to change anything we do locally right now,” Harrington said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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More COVID-19 booster shots are getting approved, health officials are saying people can mix or match the brand of these shots, and vaccines for children between 5 and 11 are closer than ever.