Latest spike in COVID-19 cases stretching Garfield County’s investigative limits
November has already brought three of the highest single-day reports of new COVID-19 cases in Garfield County since the pandemic was declared last March, severely impacting a local investigation system that’s already stretched thin.
Cases in Garfield County are exceeding previously seen levels, and the public health department is concerned that it may need to begin prioritizing the cases it investigates due to the high volume, said Carrie Godes, public health information specialist for the department.
“We don’t want to break the trust that we have worked to build in our community,” she said. “But we are rapidly approaching a situation where we may need to prioritize cases, and it is a place we don’t want to be in.”
Between Nov. 1–7, the county had a total of 148 new positive cases, including 30 cases on Nov. 3, a high of 37 reported cases on Nov. 5, and another 34 on Nov. 6. That one-week average alone was 21.1 cases per day, Mason Hohstadt, public health data specialist, said during a report to county commissioners on Monday.
On Monday, Garfield County also saw its two-week average of new reported cases per day spike at 18. The previous high before this past weekend had been 17.2 cases per day for the 14-day period ending July 22, Hohstadt said.
The test positivity rate in the county has also climbed to more than 10% in the past week, and the two-week incidence rate now stands at nearly 399 per 100,000 thousand people.
“This means we are not necessarily finding all of the cases and being able to contain and mitigate the virus,” Hohstadt said.
Those stats technically put Garfield County at the “Orange,” or High Risk Level on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s COVID Dial, and trending toward the most-restrictive Stay at Home level of restrictions, Public Health Manager Josh Williams said.
For now, the county continues to operate at the “Yellow,” or “Concerned” level when it comes to restrictions on businesses, places of worship, events and public gatherings.
“We continue to work with the state on a mitigation plan” Williams said, adding that the current trend could push the county into tighter restrictions, as neighboring Mesa County had to do.
The primary age range where the new cases are showing up is between 20 and 39, Williams said.
In one of the county’s conversations with state public health officials, Williams said it was strongly recommended “that we work with that population to understand they have a role to play in containing and mitigating the virus.”
The latest spike is impacting the county’s ability to follow up on each new case with a proper investigation and contact tracing, added Sara Brainard, nurse manager and COVID epidemiologist team leader for Garfield Public Health.
It could mean the county will have to reevaluate how it does case investigations and contact tracing, she said
“We have an amazing team, but with the spike in cases that is getting really hard to do and people are getting burned out,” Brainard said.
Garfield Public Health currently has a rotation of 13 case investigators, Godes said. Only three or four are dedicated to any given day, though, and investigators work seven days per week trying to call everyone who tests positive for COVID-19.
“It is of critical importance to us that we create a rapport with each affected person,” Brainard said. “We want them to know first of all that we care about them and are concerned for their health. We also want them to know what isolation means and the actions they need to take.
“It means so much to people that we call and that they have that personal connection. We want to be there to answer their questions.”
The county’s hospitalization rate has remained in check during the latest spike in COVID cases, with six new patients between Valley View and Grand River Hospitals in the past week — several of whom have already been discharged.
Still, “it doesn’t take much to max out our hospitals,” Brainard said.
Brainard said that, as of Monday, three Garfield County residents remained hospitalized outside the county.
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