Symptom survey seeks to track respiratory illness across Routt County
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A new survey posted by Routt County public health officials to track respiratory symptoms across the county may be “a somewhat crude tool,” but it is a valuable one, according to Routt County Public Health Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington.
First, it can give public health officials a better idea of how many people out there are suffering from respiratory symptoms at a time when testing resources are severely limited.
“One of the reasons we adopted it is because of the current limited ability to do laboratory testing,” Harrington said.
There are a number of illnesses that cause respiratory symptoms, Harrington noted.
“But if we get a large enough participation, we can get an idea of the total respiratory illness, knowing that some percentage of that is COVID-19,” Harrington said.
Even if the survey can’t necessarily distinguish COVID-19 from influenza or the common cold, it can still provide public health officials with how many people are sick with something respiratory-related, what kind of symptoms they are experiencing, when they experienced them and approximately where they are in the county.
Harrington said they borrowed the symptom survey concept from Eagle County and are always looking to other counties and states for ideas.
Other than zip code and age range, the survey doesn’t ask for any personal or identifying information. No names are taken.
The survey may also give the county an idea of whether social distancing measures are working, Harrington said.
It goes to reason that social distancing should be minimizing the spread of all respiratory infections, including COVID-19, he said.
“We need your help by filling out this form. This information will help us have more clarity on areas impacted and the types of symptoms experienced,” said Kari Ladrow, director of the Routt County Department of Public Health, in a news release. “Most people who get COVID-19 will experience mild symptoms and will not require medical care. Completing this survey does not replace contacting your health care provider if you are in need of care but is instead a macro level approach to help us understand community spread utilizing data.”
Harrington encourages anyone who has respiratory symptoms to take the test.
However, if you have very mild respiratory symptoms and feel relatively good, it may be more useful to answer the introductory question about “how do you feel?” as feeling sick and not “fine,” so that you still can be directed to describe your specific symptoms.
The survey is quick, straightforward and easy. It asks about whether you have had direct contact with a person with COVID-19, whether you are immune compromised and whether you have had a flu shot. And in addition to a checklist of symptoms, the survey also asks you to rate your emotional wellness.
Results are displayed on the county’s website, at COVID19routtcounty.com.
It is not a statistical sampling of the community, Harrington acknowledges. And it is a self-reported, self-selection tool.
But it still can contribute to the database of available information and shed light on whether things like closing schools and businesses and the stay-at-home order are having an effect on minimizing the spread of respiratory infections.
“If we see a decrease in the overall burden of respiratory illnesses, we might be able to assume it reflects a decrease in COVID-19,” Harrington said.
And it can help inform officials on when it is an appropriate time to end the social distancing restrictions, he added.
Alternative sources of information are especially useful while testing is so restrictive. It is important, according to county public health officials, “to continue to be able to track the spread of COVID-19 to align resources and evaluate strategies to reduce the spread of illness.”
According to the county’s Wednesday update on testing strategy, “Right now, due to limited supplies of testing kits and personal protective equipment, testing needs to be focused on the people who are the most at-risk from this disease and the people in charge of caring for and keeping the rest of us safe. It’s important to protect the most critical element of the health care system. We are working hard to get the supplies and capacity to move to broader public testing, but until then, our message remains the same: if you have only mild symptoms, self-isolate and don’t wait for a test.”
“We are also hopeful that in a matter of weeks to a couple of months that our testing ability in local communities will be dramatically improved,” Harrington added.
The survey can be accessed directly at survey123.arcgis.com/share/218390363b6d49fa86280ab20085ee4c or at COVID19RouttCounty.com.
Before immediately heading to the hospital, people who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 have several resources, including:
- The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing a phone line to answer questions from the public about COVID-19. Call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911 or email email@example.com for answers in English and Spanish, Mandarin and more.
- UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center offers Ask-A-Nurse, a 24/7 call line staffed by registered nurses who can assess symptoms and provide advice on seeking care. In Routt County, Ask-A-Nurse can be reached by calling 970-871-7878.
- Virtual Visits can be done from the comfort of your home and only require a computer or tablet with a working webcam, speakers and microphone, or a smartphone.
- If patients are experiencing severe symptoms or having difficulty breathing, they should visit the hospital’s emergency department.
Take precautions in everyday life:
- Frequently and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home if you’re sick and keep your children home if they are sick.
- Clean surfaces in your home and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.
- Be calm but be prepared.
- Employees at businesses and customers are required to wear a mask, according to a statewide public health order.
- Limit distance between non-household members to 6 feet when indoors and outdoors.
- The maximum group size for indoor activities is 10.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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The pandemic is wearing on a lot of people, especially frontline health care workers like Whittany Keating, a registered nurse at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.