Health officials warn increase in new COVID-19 cases could threaten county’s reopening efforts
Countywide face covering requirement not on the table
Those who aren’t taking the coronavirus health precautions seriously could blow it for those who want Garfield County to be able to fully reopen businesses, county health officials warn.
A continuing uptick in newly confirmed onset cases of COVID-19 in the county — 47 over the past two weeks, including another 10 just since Monday — could jeopardize Garfield County’s existing variance from state public health restrictions.
Furthermore, it may prevent a new request to allow county officials to take local control over efforts to prevent spread of the disease from being granted, Garfield County Health Director Yvonne Long said.
“We realized that we would see an increase in cases as we opened, but this many cases in this short of time was unexpected,” Long said in a news release issued late Wednesday as the county was reporting 244 total cases.
By Thursday morning, that number had been adjusted yet again to 250 cases.
For a county the size of Garfield, an increase in new onset cases of between 31 and 60 cases over any two-week period puts the county in the high-risk category for disease spread, according to measures used by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“We worry about our community’s health, in conjunction with our concerns over our economic recovery,” Long said. “Now, we’re worried we could lose our existing variance or be unable to move into the next phase because our transmission rates are too high.”
‘More masks … more business‘
As it stands, if Garfield County sees 60 new COVID-19 cases in any two-week period, the existing variance allowing restaurants, gyms and fitness facilities, and places of worship to operate at half capacity could be rescinded by the state.
The variance, granted May 23, allowed those types of businesses to reopen at 50% of posted building occupancy — or up to 175 people for churches and restaurants, whichever comes first — as long as safety requirements are met.
Statewide restrictions cap that number at 50 people, unless otherwise granted to a county by variance.
Garfield County’s latest variance request, submitted June 12, seeks permission for local officials to determine the degree to which businesses can reopen, similar to what the state is contemplating in its new “Protect our Neighbors” phase of reopening the state’s economy.
“This is why it is so important to remember the things that we can do to control the spread,” Long said.
To emphasize that point, Garfield County has adopted the mantra, “More masks, More distance, More business,” to remind people about the basic precautionary actions they can take to help keep the economic recovery moving forward.
In addition to wearing a covering over ones mouth and nose while entering any place of business or public building or in close quarter outdoors, those precautions also include:
- Maintaining at least six feet of distance between one another
- No handshaking or hugging
- Washing hands frequently and using hand sanitizer
- Covering coughs and sneezes
- Avoiding crowds
- Staying at home as much as possible
“We all wish the pandemic would end,” Long added. “We all would like to go back to our normal ways of living life.”
But, “In order for our businesses and our economy to continue operating under current conditions, we are relying on everyone, adults and their children alike, to take personal responsibility so that we can move forward and enter into the next phase,” she said.
Mask mandate not under consideration
For now, Garfield County is not considering a countywide order requiring face coverings in public places, as the municipalities of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale have done.
“We are following the state’s guidance on face coverings, and part of that is that we don’t want to control what people do; rather we want them to make the right choice, and the right choice is an informed choice,” said Carrie Godes, public health specialist with the county.
“We want to give everyone the best information so that people can come to the same conclusion that Public Health has, that doctors have, that scientists have — that wearing a face covering in public is the best decision that you can make for your safety, for our loved ones safety, for the economy, and the freedoms that we all love,” she said.
The recent new COVID-19 cases identified in Garfield County are not all linked, meaning they stem from different sources, health officials went on to explain in the latest news release.
Some cases in the past two weeks are associated with outbreaks, but most are not, local public health officials said.
“Many cases are from clusters, in which family, close friends or co-workers spread the illness to one another,” the release stated. “A small number of the cases report not knowing where they contracted the virus. When a person doesn’t know how they contracted the illness, the case is considered ‘community spread.'”
Not all of Garfield County’s 250 cumulative cases have been the result of lab-test confirmations. About a third are considered “probable,” due to people having been in direct contact with someone who tested positive.
Although testing for COVID-19 in the county has increased, hospitals are still only testing patients who are symptomatic and have been referred by a doctor, along with those who are scheduled for surgery and other procedures involving a higher risk of spread.
Godes also clarified in a recent interview that positive results from the various post-infection antibody tests that have been available in the county are not included in the case count. The reason, she said, is that Public Health wants to know about active cases so that it can do the necessary contact tracing to prevent spread of the disease.
Advances in testing are allowing results in most cases in 24 to 48 hours. As of Thursday, Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and Grand River Health in Rifle were awaiting 45 pending test results.
Garfield County Stats
Cases to date (all clinics) — 250
New cases reported since Monday —10
Two-week onset of new cases (June 8-21) — 47
Deaths — 2 (none since April 9)
Source: Garfield County Public Health
Valley View COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 6/25/2020
- Specimens collected through Valley View — 2,754 (New since Tuesday: 144)
- Positive results — 114 (New since Tuesday: 8)
- Pending results — 16
- Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 26 (no new hospitalizations since Tuesday)
- Patients discharged (incl. transfers and deceased) — 20
Grand River COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 6/25/2020
- Specimens collected through Grand River Health — 1,473 (New since Tuesday: 25
- Positive results — 60 (one new since Tuesday)
- Pending results — 29
- Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 2 (no new hospitalizations since April)
- Patients transferred — 2
Source: Hospital statistics released twice weekly
Another major concern for area health care workers is that some people are not quarantining themselves after possibly being exposed to COVID-19, the county’s press release also notes.
“There appears to be confusion regarding what it is and why it is a vital strategy to prevent further spread of illness,” the release states.
One example cited is that, if you carpool to work with a co-worker who later falls ill and tests positive; or if someone you live with tests positive for the disease, you should consider yourself exposed.
“A simple rule is, if you have spent time with someone who has COVID (time means as little as being within 6 feet for 10 minutes or more) you need to stay at home or stay put in the same location for 14 days so you don’t spread disease to healthy people.”
And, “If you become ill, begin following isolation directions.”
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