Weekly COVID cases decline as health officials say local cases appear to be stabilizing
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — New weekly cases of COVID-19 in Routt County dipped back under 100 last week for the first time since early November, a sign to health officials that local cases of the virus are stabilizing.
While county health officials are still hesitant to call the decline in new cases a trend, it is certainly a positive sign. In an even more positive sign, the first COVID-19 vaccines arrived at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday and will be used to inoculate health care workers.
“This is going to be the biggest public health immunization event in history,” said Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith.
Smith said the vaccine is not the panacea quite yet, but it is certainly a “ray of sunshine in this hard spot that we’re in right now.”
While new cases in the county have seen some decreases, the two-week incidence rate still puts Routt County in level red of the state’s dial. Local public health identified 99 cases in the last week, down 14 cases from the previous week. There were 212 cases in the last two weeks, a decrease of 12 cases from the previous two weeks.
“Those 99 cases do appear to be lower truly, rather than just numerically lower and not meaningfully lower from the week prior,” said Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports 17 deaths from the virus in Routt County since the start of the pandemic. Casey’s Pond reported a death of a COVID-19-positive resident Monday, but at that time, had not confirmed whether the virus was a direct cause of death.
Harty said the county is seeing a lot of cases in the 20- to 39-year-old age groups but anticipate they will affect other age groups through household spread of the virus.
Brook Maxwell, the county’s public health nurse, said many of the cases this week were due to household spread, and some were from travel over Thanksgiving. Maxwell said recent cases in schools have been due to household spread rather than the virus being passed at school.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said, to him, it seems like cases are on a clear downward trend for the county. But Harty said she is hesitant to use the word “trend” for just a one-week decrease.
Epidemiologist Fritha Morrison said four of the last five weeks are relatively similar with one outlier week, with 148 new cases reported in the middle of November.
“I would be very confident that it is stable, and we’ll see if it continues to be a downward trend,” Morrison said. “We almost have an anomaly with that one really high week, and then, we’ve got four weeks that are in that same sort of stable-ish range.”
Corrigan said he is frustrated when he sees other nearby counties with COVID-19 case numbers indicating they are in level red of the state’s dial, staying in the orange or yellow levels, which allow indoor dining.
“Right now, I have no way of explaining to folks that contact me why this is the case,” Corrigan said. “I have spoken with commissioners in other counties that are in a similar situation to us, and I do think that that frustration is reaching a boiling point.”
Five of six counties that neighbor Routt County have had two-week incidence rates that would put them in level red, but of those, just Garfield County has level red restrictions. Moffat and Rio Blanco counties have higher incidence rates than Routt County, yet they are both in level orange of the state’s dial, which allows indoor dining at 25% capacity.
Smith said she has reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to understand why this is but has yet to receive a response. She also said she is trying to get clarity about whether the state will still be reevaluating the county’s dial placement Friday as it said it would when Routt County first moved to level red.
Corrigan said he hopes this will be addressed in the coming days, because right now, it is not fair to the local business community. Commissioner Beth Melton said she too has inquired about this, and the answers she has received have been unsatisfying.
“I do believe that on behalf of our business community and residents of Routt County that own businesses, I have a significant concern about equitable application of these state policies,” Melton said. “We are trying to get to the bottom of that and determine what can be done.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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