Garfield County to increase outreach, inter-county efforts to try to get handle on worrisome coronavirus spread
Garfield County is stepping up its regional coordination with neighboring Eagle and Pitkin counties to try to rein in a recent surge in new coronavirus cases that’s being closely watched by state public health officials.
In a letter late Monday to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long outlined several mitigation actions it plans to take, including:
- Increasing its capacity for education and enforcement of health precautions for businesses and within the county’s Latino community.
- Broaden the county’s marketing outreach campaign and communication strategy about ways to prevent disease spread.
- Increase outreach to sectors where case data indicates challenges.
- Increase testing capacity and ensure results within 48 hours (the state lab is currently 5-7 days out from notification of results).
- Provide specific guidance for people with symptoms who are awaiting test results to self-isolate and minimize disease spread.
- Continue regional coordination and collaboration with Eagle and Pitkin counties around testing and outreach.
- Work with CDPHE on testing, vision, strategy, communication and support to hospitals and providers.
Read the response:
Garfield County commissioners were informed July 17 by CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan that the county must file a mitigation plan outlining how it will try to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“After receipt of the plan, the county will have two weeks to reverse the trend of increasing disease,” Ryan wrote. “We will re-evaluate your case count and positivity (rate) at that time, and may modify or remove the county’s variance …”
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Long said her Monday letter to the CDPHE is only an outline, and that a full mitigation plan is forthcoming later in the week.
Garfield County has now seen three successive rolling 14-day periods during which it has exceeded a limit of 60 new cases that was built into the state variance, including one two-week stretch that saw more than 120 new confirmed cases.
The risk if the county’s case numbers don’t begin to trend downward again could be a rollback of state variances granted in May that allow Garfield County businesses to operate at greater capacity than broader state rules allowed at the time.
Worst case, the county could have to return to the stringent stay-at-home provisions that were in place in the spring if the trend isn’t reversed, Long warned during a report to county commissioners on Monday.
Many of the newer cases in the county are showing up among Latino workers who live in Garfield County but work in Pitkin or Eagle county, Long reiterated in her letter to the state.
“The county is experiencing a steady increase in our Hispanic/Latinx population related to workplace, or workplace adjacent exposures,” Long wrote. “Individuals most affected have worked in service-oriented jobs such as construction, painting, property management and housekeeping.”
That has led to community spread in Garfield County, as well as within family units and households, she said.
Younger residents also make up a significant portion of new cases. From June 1 to present, 26% of the new cases are in the county in the 20 to 29-year-old age demographic, she noted.
“Young working adults, ages 20 to 39, have accounted for 46% of cases in the same time period,” Long also advised in the letter.
Cumulative cases as of Tuesday, July 21 (all testing sources) — 536
New cases reported since 7/14 — 95
Rolling two-week onset of new cases: July 7-20 — 69; June 23-July 6 — 122; June 9-22 — 78
Test positivity rate — 5.3%
Deaths — 4
Source: Garfield County Public Health
Valley View COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 7/21/2020
Specimens collected through Valley View — 4,978 (685 new since 7/14)
Positive results — 286 (41 new since 7/14)
Pending results — 19
Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 40 (5 new since 7/14)
Patients discharged (incl. transfers and deceased) — 31
Grand River COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 7/21/2020
Specimens collected through Grand River Health — 2,184 (188 new since 7/14)
Positive results — 121 (21 new since 7/14)
Pending results — 44
Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 8 (3 new hospitalization since 7/14)
Patients discharged — 4
Patients transferred — 2
Source: Hospital statistics released twice weekly
Public health officials in the tri-county region have stepped up education campaigns within the Latino community and with employers about taking proper precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, even advising against carpooling.
“Social distancing (should) be done in vehicles as well as in person, by driving separately,” the county stated in a press release issued last week.
Although Garfield County public health nurses have traced recent cases to job-related spread, there have been no new reports of workplace outbreaks in the three counties since late June.
An outbreak, by CDPHE definition, occurs when there are two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a workplace or other non-household setting with onset within a 14-day period.
That’s not to say disease spread isn’t happening in the process of going to and from work, and back home at the end of the workday, Carrie Godes, public health specialist for Garfield County, said.
“What we are currently seeing in Garfield is that employees (who) work up-valley are being exposed in a workplace, but those individuals are then spreading it to their friends/family back home in Garfield County,” she said.
Increasing mobility is likely a driving factor in Garfield County’s increasing numbers. Godes said public health has recorded a 61% reduction in people staying at home.
“We want people to be able to go to work and do enjoyable things, but we must emphasize doing those things safely,” she said. “If you are able to work from home, work from home. If you can limit outings and trips, do so. Limit parties and social gatherings to a small group with social distancing and all other preventive measures in place.”
It’s likely that “close-contact spread” outside of the work environment that’s showing up in Garfield County’s statistics, Godes said.
“Sometimes, determining where a person became exposed is difficult. We might not consider an employee or a few employees part of an outbreak if the source of the transmission was outside of work,” she said.
Once a case is reported, contact investigations are conducted. Given the high number of new cases in Garfield County, that’s now being done by both county and state epidemiology nurses.
The number of cases recorded in a particular county can also be a bit of a moving target, which has resulted in wide variations between the number of cases being reported in Garfield County by county health officials and by the CDPHE.
“Garfield County only records COVID cases in individuals who live in Garfield County,” Godes said. If a visitor travels to and gets tested in Garfield County, investigators must re-assign those to the county or state that individual is from.
“Garfield County medical providers also often test people who live in neighboring counties,” she said in relation to the difference between numbers being reported by the county and the two hospitals located in Garfield County, Valley View and Grand River.
Godes also further elaborated on a question that came up in the county commissioners report on Monday as to how many of the recent new cases involve those who tested positive but are not experiencing any symptoms.
Overall, since the outbreak began in March, 45 of Garfield County’s 536 recorded cases to date have been asymptomatic. Since July 1, the county has seen 24 asymptomatic cases, or about 12% of the newest cases reported so far this month, she said.
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Garfield County COVID-19 cases nearly doubled in early September with the anticipated start-of-school spike, according to local health officials.