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Glenwood Council extends mask order following highly attended public listening session

The Glenwood Springs City Council on Thursday extended its mask ordinance to August. 

The extension is a break from the council’s two previous declarations — first making the mask order indefinite June 4, then removing the word “indefinite” June 18 and declaring the face covering order would be put to a vote at each following meeting.

After starting City Council’s regular meeting Thursday with a moment of silence for a man in his 70s who became Garfield County’s third death related to COVID-19 earlier in the day, City Council opened the regular agenda with a discussion about the face covering order.

While several members of the public called into council’s past meetings, speaking against the face mask order, no such opinions were voiced Thursday. 

“After having a community discussion (Tuesday) … and seeing a rise in cases throughout the county, I feel we’re being prudent,” Councilor Paula Stepp said. “I think in the long run it’s much better for our economy. Let’s do all we can to keep all our businesses open.”

Glenwood Springs residents and council members participated in a community listening session Tuesday, during which local medical professionals updated the community about the pandemic situation and provided scientific evidence about the effectiveness of wearing face coverings to slow the virus’ spread.

Briefing council, Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa said about 400 people called in for the listening session, making it one of the council’s most well attended meetings in recent history.

Councilor Rick Voorhees pointed out that Texas and Pennsylvania recently issued statewide mask orders, adding the country could soon see statewide orders as the status quo.

“I don’t think these are decisions states are making willy nilly,” Voorhees said. “We’ve spiked 82 percent in the last two weeks on the national level.”

Keeping the face-covering ordinance in place will help keep locals and visitors safe as a spike of COVID-19 infections grips the nation, Mayor Pro Tem Shelley Kaup said.

“We welcome visitors from all over the country,” Kaup said. “And there are a lot of spikes in cases in different parts of the country.”

Councilor Charlie Willman said some local businesses have been vocal opponents to the face-covering orders.

“Some of the businesses feel like we put them in the middle of this,” Willman said. “And, we need to remind them that the rules that govern businesses come from the Governor, not us.”

He added the council should be aware of the business owners placed in the position of enforcing mask orders indoors when customers refuse to comply.

Mayor Jonathan Godes agreed with Willman’s concerns, adding businesses that decide not to comply with the order make it difficult for compliant businesses by creating an inconsistent precedent for customers.

“I think it would be a lot less frustrating for the other business owners if the order was applied more evenly,” Godes said. “The city of Aspen started to criminalize businesses that didn’t enforce face coverings on their premises. We’re not there yet. But, we do ask businesses to have a baseline of doing the right thing, like not over-serving (alcohol).”

Willman made the motion to extend the mask order until the council’s first meeting in August and Kaup seconded.

The extension was approved unanimously.

Additionally, council directed city staff to draft a letter to Gov. Jared Polis requesting a statewide face-covering order for Colorado.

ifredregill@postindependent.com

COVID outbreak among workers at Iron Mountain Hot Springs closes cafe, but not full operation

The Sopris Cafe at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs has been closed since Tuesday after two workers there tested positive for COVID-19.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs showed up on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environments list of active COVID-19 outbreaks in the state on Wednesday, after the cases were reported.

However, only the cafe was affected, and the hot springs business itself remained open, General Manager Aaron McCallister said.

After working with Garfield County Public Health on protocols to disinfect and sanitize the cafe area, plans are to reopen the food and beverage service operation on Friday, in time for the July 4th holiday weekend, McCallister said Thursday.

There have been no reports of any guests becoming ill in the days since the first case became known on June 26, he said.

The first cafe worker to test positive had registered a fever of more than 100 degrees on June 23 during health screening that’s done routinely when employees show up for work, he said. That employee’s COVID-19 test came back positive on June 26.

The second worker to test positive, on June 29, reported experiencing symptoms, including headache and chills, in a questionnaire that’s also conducted as part of the daily screening, McCallister said.

That person was immediately tested and the result came back positive the same day, he said. Prior to showing symptoms, McCallister said the worker had attended a Black Lives Matter protest — while wearing a mask — outdoors Sunday evening in front of Glenwood Springs City Hall.

Other employees who had been in close contact with the workers were also sent home as a precaution, and one is to remain in self-quarantine for 14 days, public health officials confirmed.

“We shut down the cafe (on Tuesday) and threw away all the prepped food, and worked with public health to disinfect all the areas that would have been touched and to sanitize,” McCallister said. “We do feel our systems have been really tight to protect our employees and guests.”

A full closure of the Hot Springs was discussed, he said, but after consultation with county health officials it was determined that step didn’t need to be taken.

“They didn’t offer any thoughts that we should close, and felt confident with the way we handled the situation,” he said.

Garfield County Public Health is conducting a contact investigation.

“The Hot Springs is following all recommended procedures, including Public Health recommendations for cleaning,” Godes said. “Employees that worked closely with these individuals are in quarantine.

“A complete contact tracing investigation is in process with all of the people this person was in contact with, and one person has been quarantined.”

Resort management did review the safety protocols with employees, in order to bring “continued awareness of this pandemic that’s in front of us,” McCallister said.

That includes cleaning and disinfecting of the premises every two hours, in addition to the extra janitorial cleanings that have been added since the hot springs reopened on June 8.

All employees are required to wear face masks at all times, and guests must also wear face coverings at all times other than when they are in one of the pools, McCallister said.

“It is an educational thing with our guests, and we do get some people from out of state who don’t know about our local rules, or maybe they disagree with it,” he said.

Those rules will be emphasized this weekend with the expected increase in visitors due to the July 4th holiday, he said.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs is currently operating at 30% capacity on a reservation basis, limiting visits to 2.5 hours, and with strict public health safety protocols in place.

The cafe at the Iron Mountain resort is the second Garfield County restaurant to voluntarily close in the past week due to employees testing positive for COVID-19. White House Pizza in Carbondale closed on June 24 after two workers tested positive. It expects to reopen on July 9, according to a post on the restaurant’s website.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Community conversation stresses mask use

We’re in this together — and we need to wear masks.

That might sum up the first of three Glenwood Springs community conversations Tuesday evening.

The purpose of the meeting, according to event information, was to listen and better understand community questions as the city seeks to balance public health and open the economy.

Or, as facilitator Janesse Brewer put it, to “find the sweet spot of reopening,” though she pointed out that reaching consensus was not the purpose of this meeting.

The discussion rarely strayed from COVID-19 data, with speakers and panelists presenting a united front on the necessity of mask use.

Speaker Dr. David Brooks, Chief Medical Officer for Valley View Hospital, gave a public health update. He said the hospital is keeping a close watch on the uptick in cases locally.

“When we get more than three new hospitalizations in a week we get concerned if we’ll be able to handle those cases. We’re reaching that level again, and we’re getting cautious,” he said.

Much of his presentation focused on the value of wearing face coverings. He gave a mathematical example of how masks can limit the spread of the disease.

He said that the R-naught for COVID-19 is thought to be about 2.4, meaning infected people who take no steps to reduce transmission risk will infect 2.4 people on average.

He then showed a slide of a formula that demonstrates the effectiveness of mask wearing. The formula takes into account how effective the mask is at trapping viral particles and the percentage of the population that wears them. In his example, if masks trap just 50% of particles and half the population wears them, that reduces the R-naught to 1.35. 

What that means is at R-naught 2.4 100 cases will swell to 31,280 in one month, while at R-naught 1.35 cases would grow to just 584 cases, 98% fewer.

The next slide read, in regard to the high cost of medical care, “We estimate that the benefits of each additional cloth mask worn by the public are conservatively in the $3,000-$6,000 range due to their impact in slowing the spread of the virus.”

A panel of business owners and community leaders answered questions from the public either by phone or email submission.

A submitter named John asked about the positivity rate of local coronavirus testing.

Brooks explained, “The positivity rate has been 5% recently. What we’re looking for as we implement more tests is the rate to go down. If the rate stays the same it means we were missing cases in the community.”

Submitter Greg asked if more testing could be done locally.

Sara Brainard, a nurse with Garfield County Public Health, said that all of the tests provide only a piece of the puzzle, “and it’s a 10,000-piece puzzle,” she said. “Testing on a frequent basis doesn’t give us the info we wish it would. Some people test positive, go through isolation, and still test positive. Testing is not the be-all and end-all.”

Submitter Joyce asked to what activities have recent cases been linked.

Brainard responded,” We’re seeing broader community spread. We’re not seeing instances of people who have traveled. Job site and essential workers have been bringing it home to their families.”

Submitter Joyce (it is not clear if she is the same as the previous submitter) asked if there are any medical conditions exacerbated by wearing a mask.

Brooks responded, “There is a slight barrier so you have to breathe a little harder, but there’s no impact on oxygen or CO2 levels. If you have severe pulmonary disease that may warrant not wearing a mask,” he said.

Submitter Paul asked the panel about the objection to face masks expressed by so many in our community.

Steve Beckley, owner of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs, said, “We’ve had some mixed emotions. We’ve had employees quit because they think wearing masks is not necessary. Some visitors don’t want to wear them, but most people don’t mind. We’re seeing high percentages of people wearing masks,” he said.

Submitter Christina asked about hostile interactions between visitors and locals in regards to mask wearing.

Treadz owner Erin Zalinski said that sometimes interactions can be uncomfortable, but she has taken steps to deal with that.

“We made additional signs for the front door, and I gave staff a script. It needs not to be punitive, not to make somebody feel uncomfortable,” she said.

In his closing comments, Glenwood Hot Springs COO, CFO and Vice President John Bosco said, “We have to work collectively. Wearing a mask isn’t that much to ask. What would a shutdown bring to our businesses and employees? Maybe someday soon we can move closer to where we were 3 1/2 months ago.”

cwertheim@postindependent.com

Herd immunity not a reasonable COVID cure, short of yet-to-be developed vaccine

The notion of achieving natural herd immunity to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus that’s sometimes touted by skeptics of social distancing and face masks is not a realistic one, say local public health experts.

Among the threads upon threads of social media comments related to the global COVID-19 pandemic are ones arguing that the populace should be able to move about normally — thus allowing the contagious and potentially fatal disease to spread to the point that the vast majority of the population becomes immune.

In human populations, that’s typically achieved artificially through the use of a vaccination — the goal being to inoculate a certain majority percentage of people until the entire community (“the herd”) is protected.

Short of a vaccination for COVID-19, which is not yet available and isn’t likely to be until sometime next year, that herd immunity would have to occur naturally.

“In many diseases, we talk about herd immunity in public health,” Garfield County Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes said in a recent response to the question.

“However, with COVID we just don’t know enough about the illness to know what it means for the community,” she said. “More of this will come with time, but for now we still need everyone to continue to take the basic steps that we are asking, as they are the only tools that we have at this present time.”

That means, Garfield County residents and visitors alike should continue to do their part to slow the spread by:

  • Wearing a mask or cloth face-covering in public
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Walking, riding or playing 6 feet apart
  • Getting tested within 1-2 days of symptom (fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing) onset
  • Staying home if you are ill

To truly achieve herd immunity in Garfield County, that would mean between 70-90% of the population would have to contract the new coronavirus that can cause COVID-19.

“For a community like Garfield County, that would be over 40,000 people, not even taking into account visitors from other areas,” Godes said.

And, that’s on the low end of the percentage range.

Expanding that to all of Colorado, 4 million of the state’s 5.8 million people would have to contract the virus. For the entire United States, that number would be 230 million people, and globally it would mean 5.3 billion people contracting the virus to achieve herd immunity.

To date, Garfield County has confirmed 290 cases of COVID-19, either through direct lab-positive results or based on presumed cases through contact tracing.

The number of overall infected, however, is likely higher.

Mason Hohstadt, also a public health specialist with Garfield County, said the county uses a replication factor of 1 — meaning that, for every positive case, there’s likely one additional undetected case, he said.

“So, of the 90 new recent onset cases we’ve seen, we can realistically say we have 180 active cases in the county,” he said.

As any of those 180 people moves about without practicing the public health safety protocols, the disease can easily spread — including within more vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and people who have existing health problems and compromised immune systems.

The recent uptick in new active cases places Garfield County in the red/high category for virus prevalence, meaning it will not be allowed to move into Colorado’s next phase for allowing businesses to reopen.

Additionally, “Regarding COVID, we don’t yet know how long immunity lasts for those that have already been infected,” Godes said.

The majority of Garfield County’s cases to date — 55.5% — have been among those ages 20-59. A growing number — 9.3% — are also showing up in the 10-19 age group.

In the vast majority of those cases, though, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.

For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death — though the vast majority of people recover. To date, more than 25 people in Garfield County have had serious enough cases to require hospitalization.

A much smaller percent of county’s cases so far, 17%, has involved those age 60 and older. The county’s two deaths to date as a result of COVID-19 involved males in their 80s.

“Part of that is because our older and more vulnerable groups have decided to limit their personal exposure to the virus,” Godes said.

“They do not have to feel completely isolated, though. There are ways that we can incorporate social visits and interaction, even with our highest-risk individuals,” she said. “But we need to do it in a smart and considerate way in order to keep them safe, and to keep the virus from spreading further.” 

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

Garfield County Stats

Cases to date (all clinics) — 290

New cases reported since June 25 —40

Rolling two-week onset of new cases (June 17-30) — 38

Deaths — 2 (none since April 9)

New hospitalizations since June 25: 3

Source: Garfield County Public Health

jstroud@postindependent.com

Colorado governor reins in rules on bars, nightlife

DENVER (AP) — Colorado will rein in previously set rules for bars and nightlife because of the potential for spreading coronavirus, Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference Tuesday.

“We simply aren’t ready to safely have the level of mixing and socializing that is inherent in a bar and nightclub environment,” Polis said.

After speaking with the governors from Texas and Arizona, which have seen spikes in new cases, Polis said they believe bars and nightclubs have been major sources of outbreaks, especially among young people.

“They wish that they had been able to act earlier and had the foresight. And we’re gonna learn from this,” Polis said.

With neighboring states closing bars and nightlife, Polis said said he doesn’t want Colorado to “become a mecca of nightlife in the pandemic.”

Previous rules announced June 18 under the state’s “Protect Our Neighbors” program allowed for reduced capacity at 25 percent or 50 people. Under the new modifications, which Polis said will go into effect under the next 48 hours, bars will be closed for in-person service. But those with dining options may continue to serve customers and sell takeout alcohol.

Polis also specified the criteria for the “Protect Our Neighbors” phase of re-opening in which local counties will be able to enforce their own local guidelines based on public health resources and plans for possible outbreaks.

“Basically the community itself can move forward with relaxing their guidelines when they demonstrate the ability to suppress and contain COVID-19 cases,” Polis said. “We really want to empower our local communities to be able to protect their health and safely re-open their economy and return to a sustainable sense of normalcy.”

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said there will be two components that counties will need to supply to the state.

First, counties will have to provide data showing sufficient hospital bed capacity, PPE supplies, stable or declining cases, testing capacity and surge capacity plans — all of which will differ depending on the county’s population. Second, they will have to provide a mitigation plan for if they fall out of the required metrics and how they will promote compliance.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.

___

Patty Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Garfield County stays in Safer at Home phase of reopening as COVID-19 cases rise

Garfield County will remain in the “Safer at Home” phase of reopening even as Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday guidance for the “Protect Our Neighbors” phase.

According to a news release, Garfield County has seen 35 new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, which places it in the red/high category for virus prevalence. 

“To be in the green/low category requires 15 cases or less in a 14-day period,” the release states.

Public Health Director Yvonne Long said in the news release that the recent number of new cases are especially concerning heading into the Fourth of July weekend.

“We know people will be socializing, and it is up to them to do it responsibly, so as not to further spread the disease,” she said. “Looking at the data, we can see that our last increase in cases in part stem from the Memorial Day weekend, based on symptom onset dates. We need to take precautions this weekend, so we don’t see another surge in cases.”

To help in those efforts, the county is launching a “More Masks, More Distance, Equals More Business in Garfield County,” campaign to encourage citizens and businesses to pledge to help, the release states. 

The campaign asks locals and visitors alike regardless of age to:

— Wear a mask;

— Wash your hands frequently;

— Walk, ride or play 6 feet away;

— Work successfully;

— Get symptoms tested within 1-2 days;

— Stay home if you are ill.

Garfield County’s COVID-19 cases continue to tick up, especially among younger age groups

A Carbondale restaurant remains closed until further notice after two more workers there tested positive for COVID-19, and as Garfield County has reported more than 80 new cases since the middle of June.

Newer cases here and in neighboring counties also are increasingly involving younger people, many in their late teens and 20s, with reports of some outbreaks occurring following summertime social gatherings.

White House Pizza in Carbondale voluntarily closed last week as a safety precaution when one worker who was showing symptoms tested positive for COVID-19.

Restaurant management said Monday they would remain closed after testing among employees revealed two more cases in people who were not showing symptoms, and had not been in recent contact with the first worker who tested positive.

“We will remain closed until all test results are back and we can open safely,” restaurant management said in a message posted to their website on Monday afternoon.

Garfield County Public Health officials said they have not heard of any other recent cases prompting closures of restaurants or any other businesses in the county.

“However, it is always good to remember that most people work somewhere,” said Carrie Godes, public health specialist for the county.

“At some point, any worker anywhere could test positive,” she said, adding it’s up to the individual business in most cases whether to shut down. “Unless there is a threat to the public, we will treat it as a normal case investigation and work through the process. If there were to be a risk to the public, we would make that information available.”

Meanwhile, County Health had upped its cumulative COVID-19 case number over the weekend from 259 on Friday to 282 as of late Sunday. That number was expected to go up again Monday night following another day of contact tracing by the county’s nurse epidemiologists.

More than 80 of those cases have been reported just in the past two weeks, as hospitals and clinics test more people experiencing symptoms and being referred for testing, as well as testing of asymptomatic people through contact tracing, public health officials report.

However, those cases get back-dated to when a person who tests positive first experienced symptoms. That means the county, so far, has not eclipsed the 60 cases in any rolling two-week period that could jeopardize its state variance to reopen restaurants and other businesses at capacities greater than state orders currently allow.

County health officials were able to confirm that, of the last 82 positive cases reported, 32% were in the 20-29 age group.

Since the start of the outbreak in Garfield County, the majority of cases, 22%, have been in that age group, with 17% of cases in the 30-39 age group and 16.3% each for the 40-49 and 50-59 age groups, according to County Health records.

A little over 9% of the county’s cases to date have involved people ages 10 to 19.

The vast majority of Garfield County’s cases have been in the 20-59 age group, though it remains older people who are most at risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19.

“Part of that is because our older and more vulnerable groups have decided to limit their personal exposure to the virus,” Godes said of the lower number of cases among older people.

Both of Garfield County’s two deaths to date associated with COVID-19 involved men in their 80s.

City hosts coronavirus conversation Tuesday evening

The city of Glenwood Springs is scheduled to host a virtual Town Hall Community Conversation at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday for a conversation about balancing public health and reopening the economy amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Participants can register in advance at cogs.us/townhall, and can provide input in advance to help shape the topics on the “virtual bulletin board” at  www.gwscommunityconversations.com.

Presenting will be Sara Brainard from Garfield County Public Health and Dr. David M. Brooks, Chief Medical Officer for Valley View Hospital. Other speakers will include:

  • Angie Anderson, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association
  • Sumner Schachter from Imagine Glenwood
  • Beatriz Soto, Directora Defiende Nuestra Tierra for Wilderness Workshop
  • Steve Beckley, owner of the Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
  • John Bosco, COO and Vice President, Hot Springs Pool
  • Erin Zalinski, owner, Treadz
  • Jonathan Godes, Glenwood Springs Mayor

Organizers are soliciting ideas for balancing health and reopening the economy; how best to communicate with visitors about local public health restrictions; and, thoughts on specific policies.

There will also be a Question and Answer session during the town hall. Questions will be taken from participants on the phone and online.

  • Text Glenwood to 833-TXT-LIVE to be added to the registration list in advance of the event (and to receive a call for the event)
  • To call in, dial 866-416-5235, or, for Spanish, dial 833-380-0618

jstroud@postindependent.com

Carbondale restaurant prompted to close temporarily after worker tests positive for COVID-19

White House Pizza in Carbondale was prompted to shut down temporarily last week after a worker there tested positive for COVID-19.

The restaurant announced in a Facebook post and on its website late Thursday that it had voluntarily closed “to make sure we can serve you safely” once able to reopen.

Reopening will not happen until Monday at the earliest, White House General Manager Jake Behlow said Friday evening.

The worker in question who tested positive had gone camping June 16, and last worked at the restaurant on June 18-19, Behlow elaborated in a follow-up post.

On June 20, another person in the camping party was confirmed to have COVID-19. That same day, the restaurant worker reported feeling tired and over the following weekend began to experience symptoms, Behlow said. A test on June 23 confirmed the employee was positive for COVID-19.

“We closed the night of the 24th until further notice. No other employees or guests have reported symptoms,” Behlow said, adding that all staff has since been tested and there have been no additional positive tests.

The decision to close was voluntary, though Garfield County Public Health was consulted for advice, he said.

“We feel completely confident we could continue to serve customers safely, but we decided to close so that our team players and the community would know we’re doing the right thing,” Behlow said.

Regular updates are being provided on the restaurant’s website.

The restaurant closure in Carbondale comes as Garfield County Public Health has reported a significant spike in new onset coronavirus cases over the past week to 10 days.

Another nine new cases were added to the cumulative total Friday morning, bringing the number of new cases just since June 15 to 59.

As of Sunday, another 23 cases were added to the total, bringing the cumulative number to 282 confirmed or presumed positive cases since the outbreak began in early March.

Unless there’s a major outbreak at a single business or event, it’s up to individual businesses whether to close if a worker tests positive, Garfield County Health Specialist Carrie Godes said.

“We haven’t had to force a restaurant to close due to a worker testing positive,” she said. “We do work with places that have had positives and provide guidance around protocols and cleaning procedures.”

Public Health’s nurse epidemiologist team then works with the establishment on contact tracing, she said.

“Most take all needed action themselves, but we are here for support, and enforcement if that were ever needed,” Godes said. 

County Health officials have warned that the recent surge in new cases could jeopardize the county’s efforts to reopen businesses to full capacity aside from state public health restrictions.

Many of the recent newly confirmed cases date back to before June 15, but if Garfield County sees 60 new cases in any given two-week period, the variance could be rescinded by the state.

Public health officials could not immediately say Friday if any other businesses in Garfield County have had to close during the recent onset of new cases.

Earlier this month, restaurants in the Basalt and Aspen areas had to close temporarily due to confirmed cases involving workers in those establishments.

“We are confident our strict adherence to CDC guidelines, masks, gloves, and sanitation practices, allowed our facility to remain safe for guests and teammates,” Behlow said in the earlier post regarding the situation at White House.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Health officials warn increase in new COVID-19 cases could threaten county’s reopening efforts

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.

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

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

Quarantine quandary

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.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Eagle County investigates cluster of 11 positive COVID-19 cases in Basalt area

Eagle County public health officials are investigating a cluster of 11 positive COVID-19 cases among teenagers in the Roaring Fork Valley but have been hampered by lack of cooperation in some cases.

“Disease investigators have noted an unwillingness among some infected individuals and families to isolate at home and share information about events where other people would have been exposed,” Eagle County said in a statement Tuesday. “Officials note that the investigation is ongoing and it is possible more cases will emerge in coming days.”

The cluster of cases is “mostly” among people ages 16 to 18, the county said. The initial spread “was associated with private social gatherings, resulting in 11 confirmed cases among young people in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

County communications director Kris Widlak clarified that it is believed the disease was spread when friends were getting together rather than at a specific type of party or gathering.

The Eagle County Public Health Department has been cautious up until Tuesday about identifying when cases arise specifically in the Roaring Fork Valley. El Jebel and most of Basalt are located in Eagle County. However, the information was released because the coronavirus is a community problem and requires community cooperation to limit its spread, Widlak said.

The investigation isn’t an effort to stigmatize anyone, Widlak said. It’s an effort to identify people potentially exposed.

Health department officials declined to say how many of the 11 teenagers who tested positive are being cooperative and how many are refusing to cooperate.

“It’s just been challenging getting a list of people” who the teenagers have been in contact with over the past 14 days, Widlak said.

The cluster spurred Eagle County Public Health and Environment to elevate its performance indicator from “comfortable” to “cautious” due to the number of new cases and the potential for spread.

Widlak told The Aspen Times on Monday that the county had 26 new confirmed cases in the past five days.

Heath Harmon, the public health director said the cluster emphasizes the continued need for 6 feet of physical distancing, washing hands often, using a face cover in public, staying at home when sick and getting tested immediately if there are symptoms.

“This is not about personal risk tolerance, this is about making decisions that help protect the community,” Harmon said in a statement. “We need to coexist with this virus until a vaccine is available and do so in a way that helps limit its spread.”

The county doesn’t identify specific individuals who test positive and it doesn’t identify businesses where people who tested positive work.

While the cases in this latest cluster involve residents of Eagle County, it could easily spread into Garfield and Pitkin counties because of the blurred county lines and social interactions crossing boundaries. The investigation is a coordinated effort among the three counties, Eagle County said. The disease control measures are identical among the three counties. They include:

Any person confirmed to have COVID-19 should isolate at home for 10 days from the time the symptoms began.

All close contacts of a known COVID-19 case should self-quarantine at home for 14 days from the last date of exposure. Close contacts are persons that live in the same household, intimate partners, and anyone that has spent more than 15 minutes closer than 6 feet with a confirmed case.

Close contacts of known cases are significantly at higher risk of becoming infected than people that had limited contact with a case. Quarantine helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 that can occur before a person develops symptoms or if they are infected with the virus and are asymptomatic.

Close contacts that are symptomatic should contact their medical provider and seek testing immediately.

Close contacts that are asymptomatic should wait five to seven days from the last date of exposure to seek testing. Testing right after an exposure may be too early in the incubation period to detect the virus.

scondon@aspentimes.com