Weekly COVID-19 cases increase as health officials warn next 2 months could be ‘pretty difficult’ | SteamboatToday.com

Weekly COVID-19 cases increase as health officials warn next 2 months could be ‘pretty difficult’

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — New weekly cases of COVID-19 in Routt County increased last week for the first time since the middle of November as local health officials warned of a spike in cases fueled by gatherings and travel over the holidays.

“I think the impact of these two holidays is going to be much greater than Thanksgiving,” Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said. “These next two months, I think, are going to be pretty difficult.”

While vaccines may have allowed people to see the light at the end of the tunnel, “We are not there yet,” Smith added.

State health officials moved Routt County into level orange Monday, but cases still remain within metrics for level red. There were 62 new cases in the county last week, up from 46 the prior week. The 108 cases over the most recent two-week span is almost identical to the previous total.

Cases would need to fall below 89 to be within level orange metrics, but local health officials said it does not seem likely such a decline will happen soon.

“I think we could be in our last, worst months in January and February,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County’s chief medical officer. “There is a bunch of things coming to play here that, I think, in not too long, we’re going to start to change our overall trajectory, but we’re not at that peak yet.”

Test positivity in the county increased in the past week and is now just over 5%, while testing was down with fewer people seeking testing over the holidays.

“This is concerning to me because, seeing an increase from where we are right now, I anticipate that we will continue to see this increase,” said Nicole Harty, county epidemiologist.

Because of the high incidence of the virus locally, Harty said an increase would be more likely now than it was when cases first increased dramatically in October.

The 35% increase in cases last week is similar to the first increase in cases in October, which started the spike that put the county in level red restrictions in November.

“I hope it is not a 200% increase next week, but I do think that we will continue to see increases over the next few weeks,” said county epidemiologist Fretha Morrison.

Public health officials are investigating at least five outbreaks stemming from holiday gatherings, two of them related to visitors who vacationed in the area with multiple households.

There were an additional 22 cases among visitors to the county in the past week, the highest mark since the county began tracking the data in September and the fourth straight week of an increase.

Morrison said the blame for the uptick in local cases could not be solely placed on visitors. Cases among residents increased more than visitor cases in the past week, and Harty said the county has seen more household spread lately, some related to local holiday gatherings.

“We are seeing both an increase in our visitor cases and an increase in our resident cases,” Harty said. “Our resident cases are increasing more than those visitor cases.”

Harty added that the county has had some trouble with people unwilling to answer contact tracing questions during the past few weeks.

“We’re not interested in prying into your personal life — that is not our focus,” Harty said. “Our focus is really on trying to understand what sorts of trends are happening with disease transmission in our community, so that we can implement the best and most appropriate mitigation strategies and policies.”

County health officials have identified two more cases of reinfection of the virus, both in younger people. For a case to be considered reinfection, the positive COVID-19 tests need to be spaced more than 90 days apart. PCR test results also need to be verified for each time the person tested positive for it to be a reinfection case.

A handful of previous cases in the county of people getting COVID-19 more than once were older people with compromised immune systems.

“Clinically, it does appear that these folks are reinfected, about five to six months apart at least,” Harty said. “If you had coronavirus symptoms in the spring or in the summer and you are having them again, we still recommend getting tested.”

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