Virus test results expected Tuesday for 13 people who had contact with Aspen visitor

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
Gabe Andrade sits behind the front desk Monday at the Aspen Police Department, where officials installed a table barrier with Kleenex and hand sanitizer to keep the public at arm's length and the COVID-19 virus at bay.
Jason Auslander

Thirteen people traveling with a 21-year-old Australian woman who tested positive for the coronavirus after visiting Aspen are in isolation here after exhibiting symptoms, officials said Monday.

An investigation by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment revealed the woman came into contact with at least 18 people, though five are not symptomatic and haven’t been tested, said Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County public health director.

All are Australians who traveled together to Aspen, she said. They are being cooperative and have canceled their future travel plans and will remain in Aspen in self-isolation for 14 days, she said.

The woman who tested positive in Australia “is doing much better,” Koenemann said.

Pitkin County public health officials gathered swab samples Monday afternoon from the 13 symptomatic people and sent them by courier to the state health department in Denver, Koenemann said. It will take 24 hours to find out results from those tests, she said.

Results are not expected until Tuesday afternoon, said Tracy Trulove, city of Aspen spokeswoman.

CDPHE in Denver is the only place in the state that can test for the COVID-19 virus. The agency’s capacity is 150 tests per day, Koenemann said.

The agency alerted public health officials Sunday that the 21-year-old Australian woman visited Aspen and tested positive for the virus when she returned home. Pitkin County public health officials said they don’t know what airline she flew, where exactly she went in town, how many people she contacted, where she was infected or when she tested positive, Koenemann said.

“(CDPHE) is not telling us,” Trulove said.

CDPHE is leading the investigation into the woman’s contacts, she said.

Two phone messages left Monday afternoon for CDPHE seeking more information about the Australian woman and her stay in Aspen were not returned. An email to the agency seeking the information, however, was returned late Monday afternoon, though it appeared to contradict local officials and provided no specifics on the woman’s Aspen stay.

“Local public health agencies who are leading these investigations will provide additional information as necessary to protect public health,” according to the unsigned email response from CDPHE. “We are providing basic information as fast as we can.”

The agency has “identified the contacts who have exposure that put them at risk,” the email states.

“Based on what we understand from CDC, risk of transmission is associated with exposure over a long period of time,” according to the email.

The state public heath department also wasn’t communicating with Aspen Skiing Co., said company spokesman Jeff Hanle. As of Monday afternoon, the agency hadn’t contacted Skico about whether the Australian woman skied at any of the area’s four ski mountains, attended ski school or ate at on-mountain restaurants, he said.

“That’s information we’d like to know,” Hanle said.

Skico had no plans so far to cancel any events because of the COVID-19 virus. The company has received some cancellations along with several calls from people inquiring about the situation, but has also had new bookings as well, he said. The last two weeks of March typically are the busiest of the month.

The company has formed two teams in operations and internal emergency management that will be activated in the event of a virus emergency, he said.

“We’re taking this seriously but relying on outside experts in the field,” Hanle said.

Pitkin County officials were setting up a local hotline for virus updates though it was not yet available Monday afternoon, Trulove said. Meanwhile, locals who subscribe to Pitkin Alerts can text “cvirus” to 888777 for virus updates.

People who are feeling symptomatic should call the CDPHE at 303-692-2700 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. seven days a week. The statewide hotline is 877-462-2911.

Information on the virus is also available on the Pitkin County Public Health website and the agency’s Facebook page.

Concern over the virus was beginning to show Monday in Aspen.

Officials at the Aspen Police Department installed a line of tables featuring hand sanitizer in front of the reception desk at their office on Main Street to keep the disease at arm’s length. Local gyms sent out emails urging patrons to wash their hands frequently and stay away if they become sick.

The sample cups at the soup and salad bar at Clark’s Market were off limits, while Starbucks in town declined to fill people’s personal to-go cups and insisted on serving coffee in their own cups.

Nicholas Vesey, spiritual leader at the Aspen Chapel, sent out an email offering to provide services like shopping, collecting medicine or providing meals for those who might have to isolate themselves. Services at the facility will be live-streamed for those who can’t attend, while those who do were urged to “use the ‘Namaste’ bow rather than hugging or shaking hands,” according to the email.

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