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THURSDAY COVID-19 UPDATE: Latest incident rate pushes Garfield County into ‘cautious’ mode

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

Cumulative cases as of Thursday, Sept. 24 (all testing sources): 943

Newly confirmed cases since Tuesday: 8

Deaths since outbreak began: 5

KEY RISK INDICATORS (measures from lowest to highest risk level: Comfortable-Cautious-Concerned-Very High)

Concerned — Rolling two-week total of new cases: Sept. 10-23 – 60 (<30 needed to achieve Comfortable level)

Concerned — Case rate per 100,000 people: 99.9 (<75 needed to achieve Comfortable level)

Cautious — Test positivity rate: 4.8% (<4% needed to achieve Comfortable level)

High Risk — Days before seeking testing, 24-48 hours of symptom onset recommended: <50% (>85% needed to achieve Comfortable level)

Comfortable — Hospital System Capacity: >75%

Comfortable — Case interviews within 24 hours: >85%

Source: Garfield County Public Health

Valley View Hospital Cumulative Stats 9/24/2020

Specimens collected through Valley View — 8,988 (+160 since 9/22)

Positive results — 451 (+2 since 9/22)

Pending results — 83

Hospitalizations since outbreak began — 70 (0 since 9/22)

Patients discharged (incl. transfers and deceased) — 62

Grand River Hospital Cumulative Stats 9/24/2020

Specimens collected through Grand River Health — 3,337 (+36 since 9/17)

Positive results — 198 (+1 since 9/22)

Pending results — 33

Hospitalizations since outbreak began — 10 (0 new since 8/27)

Patients discharged — 6

Patients transferred — 4

Source: Hospital statistics released twice weekly on Tuesday and Thursday

Latest update:  The case incidence rate has increased in recent 14-day periods, along with the percentage of cases from community spread, and the percentage of cases where tests were sought outside of the 48-hour symptom onset.

Less than 60% of tests were reported within 48 hours of collection, according to the latest Garfield County Public Health update.

“All are necessary for containment strategies,” the report states. “Hospital capacity, which is a large component of the meter, remains in a comfortable status, and that helps as we know patients can be treated.”

“The percentage of community spread and the case incidence rate are in the ‘concerned’ category,” county health officials said earlier this week. “Individuals are waiting too long to seek a COVID test as indicated by the ‘High-Risk Days Before Seeking Testing’ category.

“Test turnaround time is concerning, with less than 60% of tests being reported within 48 hours of collection.”  

Public Health states that each indicator is important for containment to be effective. “Even small shifts in the indicators can change the meter,” which in late August was measuring in the “Comfortable” range for new cases. 

“Hospital capacity, a large component of the meter, remains in a comfortable status,” according to the latest report. “This is reassuring as it indicates that all patients can be treated.” 

The Garfield County “Coronameter” is a new tool designed to help the community “gauge” the current risk level for coronavirus spread. Here’s where things stand, based on the latest incident, test positivity and hospitalization rates:


Garfield County Public Health statistics are updated daily, and hospitals report their latest statistics twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday.

Among the factors the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment looks at in making its determinations regarding business reopening variances are the most recent two-week onset of new cases, case rate per 100,000 people, test positivity rate and the trend in local hospitalizations.

Current public health measures in place for Garfield County

• Facial Coverings: Required in all settings, indoor or outdoor
• Events: 100 ppl max indoor |175 ppl max outdoor
• Private Gatherings/Groups: 25 ppl max | however, <10 is recommended
• Personal Services (Salon, massage, spas, etc.): 50% capacity | 50 ppl max
• Restaurants: 50% capacity | 175 ppl max
• Gyms/Fitness/Pools: 50% capacity I 175 ppl max

• Group/League Sports: 25:1 instructor ratio | parents ok; spectators discouraged

• Museums/Libraries: 50% capacity | 50 ppl max
• Retail (non-critical): 50% capacity | 50 ppl max
• Outfitters & Guides: 10:1 guest ratio
• Places of Worship: 50% capacity |175 ppl max indoor
• Life Rites (funerals, weddings, graduations): 50% capacity | 175 ppl max indoor I outdoor based on social distancing calculator

Basalt Elementary Early Childhood Center closes after staffers test positive for COVID-19

Two Basalt Elementary Early Childhood Center staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and another is showing symptoms, prompting its closure until Sept. 28, the school district said Monday night.

“Because of this situation, the Basalt Elementary Early Childhood Center will be short-staffed and will temporarily close until Sept. 28 during the 14-day quarantine period,” a news release from Roaring Fork School District states.

In addition to the three who have tested positive or are showing symptoms, eight staff members are quarantining, said Kelsy Been, Roaring Fork School District’s public information officer.

Out of 31 students attending, 12 are being quarantined. The remaining 19 were in a different cohort — Been said they would have been allowed to continue attending if it weren’t for the staffing shortage.

Pitkin and Garfield counties’ public health departments are coordinating the follow-up, Been said.

“The Roaring Fork Schools are working closely with Public Health and have contacted all students and staff who had close contact with those individuals,” the release states. “The district cannot divulge names to protect patient confidentiality.”

This is the second instance of multiple people testing positive for COVID-19 on the Basalt Elementary School grounds. Three counselors at a day care center based at the elementary school tested positive for COVID-19 during the summer.

In Aspen, the Cottage Preschool temporarily closed Aug. 28 after a student tested positive. The entire preschool, which is on the Aspen School District campus and provides day care for children of faculty and staff, as well as the general public, reopened Sept. 8. It originally opened for the fall semester Aug. 19.

More recently, more than 100 students and staff members were asked to quarantine after close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 at Coal Ridge High School in Garfield Re-2 School District. Most classes at that school were temporarily moved to remote instruction.

Fifth Garfield County resident dies from complications due to COVID-19

A 57-year-old man is the fifth Garfield County resident to die from complications due to COVID-19.

Garfield County Public Health in a news release reports the number of cases have declined in recent weeks, but that health and safety guidance should still be followed.

“We regret that another Garfield County resident has lost his life to this illness. We offer our sincere condolences to the family,” said Yvonne Long, Garfield County Public Health Director in the news release.  “For many people, COVID-19 symptoms are mild to moderate. However, we need to continue to take preventive action to protect those that may have much more serious complications.”

The fourth death related to COVID-19 in Garfield County was reported July 14.

GarCo health officials advise that flu vaccine is doubly important during pandemic

To avoid catching both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, get that flu vaccine soon, a Garfield County Public Health official said. 

“We really want you to have your flu vaccine on board before flu season hits, so you are at least protected for one of the viruses this winter,” said Danielle Dudley, Garfield County Public Health immunizations coordinator.

The Centers for Disease Control reported it was not changing its flu vaccine time frame recommendation, stating July and August are too early. But the CDC advises that September and October would be an optimal time to get inoculated. 

Dudley said public health is always a proponent for vaccines, but this year could be more important than others.

“Having two upper respiratory viruses at the same time, both with a potential for pneumonia, could be a real problem,” she explained.

Dr. Nichole Feeney, of Grand River Health, said getting a flu vaccine could reduce visits to the hospital, lowering risk of exposure to COVID-19 and freeing health care staff to address the pandemic.

“There have been a lot of studies on flu vaccines,” Feeney said. “They reduce visits to the doctor’s office by around 30-40 percent, and in children, they reduce visits to the pediatric intensive care unit by up to 74 percent.” 

For people ages 65 and older, Feeney said some studies indicated getting the vaccine annually could reduce their mortality rate. 

Grand River is conducting a drive-through flu vaccine clinic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 18 and 23 in Rifle at 501 Airport Road. Another drive-through clinic will be conducted in Battlement Mesa at Grand River Health Clinic West, 201 Sipprelle Drive, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 14 and 22. 

Because of growing interest, Grand River has ordered increasing amounts of the vaccine in recent years, and so far, they have 3,000 vaccines coming in this fall, Feeney said. 

“I encourage my patients to get them every year,” she added. “I think of it as an umbrella that grows with the patient.”

While COVID-19 is still rampant, neither Dudley, Feeney nor the CDC advised additional precautions when getting a vaccination.

“Wear a face mask, like you would anywhere, but other than that, you should be good,” Dudley said. “If you’re feeling sick, though, the vaccine could exacerbate it. People should wait until their symptoms subside before getting the flu vaccine.” 

Garfield County Public Health is also slated to receive about 2,500-3,000 vaccinations this year. The agency orders vaccinations in February, and they are manufactured during the summer using flu strains common in the southern hemisphere, Dudley explained.

“When we were ordering, we had know idea there would be a global pandemic,” she added.  

Call 945-6614, extension 2030, for more information about public health vaccines in Glenwood Springs. For public health inquiries in Rifle, call 625-5200, extension 8116.

With a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, some have speculated the vaccine manufacturers might stop flu vaccine production to mass produce a COVID-19 inoculation, but Feeney and Dudley were skeptical.

“I don’t think they’ll stop making one for another, but I’m not positive,” Dudley said. “If so, that would be another good reason to get your flu vaccine earlier rather than later.”

ifredregill@postindependent.com

Lower risk level for COVID spread puts Roaring Fork Schools on track for Sept. 21 phased return to classrooms

A stable and even downward trend recently in new COVID-19 cases in the region bodes well for a return to in-person learning for the Roaring Fork Schools by the district’s target date of Sept. 21.

The district is holding fast to that timeframe, and won’t bring students back into school buildings any sooner, so as to allow for careful planning toward that return, RFSD Superintendent Rob Stein advised during a Wednesday school board meeting.

Even then, it’s likely to be a phased return to the classrooms for younger, elementary grades and other high-priority student groups, followed by a phased return for older students, Stein said.

“My hope is, looking at the latest trend lines, that we are on track to begin introducing more in-person learning for the primary grades by Sept. 21,” he said during the board’s twice-monthly video conference meeting, as several parents questioned whether a quicker return to classrooms might be possible.

District officials will work closely with public health officials in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties through next week, and by the week of Sept. 7 will announce the plan starting Sept. 21.

Depending on how things track over the next week and through the Labor Day weekend, that could either involve a phased return to school buildings in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, or, if the risk level backslides, continuing with distance learning for most or all age groups, Stein said in his update to the board.

Board members and some parents questioned why wait, with the risk level lower now based on Garfield County’s most recent 14-day total of new cases — 34, compared to 82 during the prior two-week period and 235 during the final two weeks of July.

“We want to make this transition slowly because we know we can’t afford to make mistakes,” Stein said.

“The states and countries that have done this right, and are not going in and out of opening and closing schools, have worked hard to create the environmental conditions first, then pivoted to in-person learning,” Stein added.

Schools and districts, and even several colleges that have returned to in-person classes too fast have already seen outbreaks, “and they’re pulling back,” he noted.

“It’s very hard to be an outlier in your region on this,” Stein said, referring to the return to classrooms for the neighboring Garfield Re-2 District schools, as well as charter and private schools within the district.

“If we transition more slowly, then we aren’t as likely to then have to pull back because of a serious outbreak that shuts us down,” he said.

Some parents, speaking before the board during the online Google Meets session, challenged that notion.

“As a parent, I can say that it is better now than in the spring, but it’s still difficult,” said Mindy Arbuckle, who has a first and a sixth-grader in Glenwood Springs schools.

“They’re still only learning a few hours each day, and definitely not getting the same education that they would if they were in person,” she said of the online format.

“We seem to be sticking to a timeline that doesn’t fit the present conditions,” Arbuckle added. “I have a hard time hearing that education is not your top priority right now … that public health is more important than that.”

Basalt parent Kale Lacroux said he and his wife have been able to observe this week as their second-grader attempted to navigate remote learning, and said the district is correct in giving younger students priority in returning to the classroom.

“We’ve witnessed nothing but technical difficulties, and saw a 7-year-old child who was home alone responsible for his own education,” Lacroux said. “There are kids in daycare centers who have no help, and don’t know how to ask for help.

“You need to understand that kids in kindergarten through fourth grade cannot do this,” he said. “It’s not fair to make daycare and after school providers suddenly become educators to monitor an education that should be provided in person.”

Some groups of students have already been allowed back into classrooms based on special needs and legal rights around that, Stein said.

That was the highest-priority group of students for access to classroom learning, “as defined by federal or state programs,” he noted.

After that, students who have been identified as “at risk,” and those who have a lack of internet access due to their geographic location or other reason, are also prioritized ahead of general student populations, Stein said.

As for elementary school students, “it is harder for them to access distance learning,” he acknowledged.

The younger the age, the less susceptible they are to contracting COVID-19, based on public health guidance, he also noted.

“What we’re really doing in these decisions is protecting adults in our community,” Stein said.

There’s also unlikely to be any sort of formal “hybrid” phase in between distance learning and in person, he said.

“We’re all eager to increase in-person learning where possible, and focusing on those areas that we’ve prioritized,” he said.

Since formal, real-time online learning began on Monday, the district has seen between 80% and 96% student participation across all grade levels, reported Rick Holt, chief academic officer for the school district.

That’s a significant improvement over the more informal approach the district took in the spring when schools were forced to shut down, when only about 40% of students were engaged online, he said.

There are some areas for improvements to the distance learning model, Holt said, including scheduling for real-time sessions and content management for some age groups.

Stein said enrollment numbers are still a moving target, but first-week head counts suggest the district, which serves approximately 5,000 students, is down about 150 students from projections.

“Once we return to in-person, we will likely see some more families show up,” he said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

New ‘coronameter’ data tracking designed to help schools make decisions as new year begins under COVID watch

Garfield County schools should have better information for decision-making related to the region’s risk of coronavirus spread, as several more schools returned to sessions this week — some in the classroom, and others in real-time online.

Public health officials in the county have devised a new method of calculating and tracking COVID-19 statistics that can help school officials, parents and others associated with the schools know which way to pivot.

Garfield Re-2 schools in New Castle, Silt and Rifle began the new school year Monday — in-person, but with strict public health practices in place, including mask requirements and daily temperature checks.

District 16 in Parachute/Battlement Mesa plans to follow suit Sept. 1. And, several private, charter and alternative schools in the area, including Two Rivers Community School, Yampah Mountain High School, St. Stephen Catholic School and Ambleside at Skylark in Glenwood Springs, have also now returned to the classroom, or are using a hybrid mix of in-person and online.

Online “distance learning” options are available in each of the schools for families who prefer to keep their children at home to help prevent disease spread.

Roaring Fork District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt have taken a more cautious route, beginning the new year with a 100% distance learning model. Formal online instruction began this week, with a target date of Sept. 21 for a possible return to in-person learning.

To help in that decision-making process for schools, Garfield County Public Health this week unveiled its new “coronameter,” a graphical display that’s updated twice weekly.

It shows a color-coded dial with a needle indicating where the county is in terms of its risk for disease spread.

On one end of the dial is what state public health officials have termed “Protect Our Neighbors,” the least-restrictive phase for reopening businesses, schools, churches and allowing public gatherings.

That’s the “comfortable,” or blue zone, for purposes of the coronameter.

On the right side of the dial is the red alert “very high risk” level, more in line with the “Stay at Home” restrictions Colorado was under in March and April when the outbreak began.

In between are the “cautious” (yellow) and “concerned” (orange) alert levels, all depending on the case rate and other statistical measures.

Coronameter

So far this week, Garfield County is hovering between the “comfortable” and “cautious” range on the dial, based on the latest 14-day COVID-19 case totals, case rate per 100,000 people, test positivity rate and hospitalization rate.

That’s a huge change from just last month, when the county was seeing an alarming upward trend in new cases and its test positivity rate.

“Cases continue to go down and hold steady,” Garfield Public Health Director Yvonne Long said during her weekly update to county commissioners on Monday. “People are doing a good job of wearing masks … and that has us on track to keep our cases coming down, and keep it manageable.”

Whether a return to classrooms for some schools and the limited high school sports programs that are now being allowed might contribute to another spike in cases remains to be seen.

Public health officials do not make decisions for the schools, but provide data and advice, Long said.

One key indicator in the enhanced measurement system, community disease spread, remains in the high-risk category for the county, explained Mason Hohstadt, who tracks statistics and maintains the county’s COVID-19 webpage.

That’s where someone contracts the disease from an unknown source in the community, rather than through contact with persons known to have tested positive. During the most recent 14-day period, 58% of new cases were attributed to community spread, Hohstadt said.

Other measures, including the incident rate per 100,000 people, test positivity rate, COVID-19 test turn-around time, contact tracing and hospital system capacity, put Garfield County in the comfortable to cautious range, he said.

The new data tracker has prompted the county to calculate its rolling two-week totals of new cases a little differently, Hohstadt also explained.

Instead of assigning cases to a certain date based on a patient’s symptom onset, those cases are now assigned based on the date they tested positive.

“That gives us a fuller picture of how the disease looks right now,” Hohstadt said. “It also aligns our data with Pitkin and Eagle counties, and gives us more of a fixed point to work from in terms of the case reporting.”

The Roaring Fork District in particular has been asking for more consistent data from which to make its decisions about returning to the classroom, because its schools are located in all three counties.

Garfield County and the school district are also working to get an outbreak of case data for the small portion of Eagle County in the Basalt-El Jebel area that can be beneficial in making those decisions.

The three public health departments have been working to combine data for a regional coronameter, as well, that could be particularly helpful for schools and districts that draw students from multiple counties.

In addition, Hohstadt has provided a more detailed breakdown of COVID cases for the school age group, beyond what’s reported on the county’s website. Of the 834 reported in Garfield County since the outbreak began, 51 cases were in the 15-19 age group, 24 in ages 10-14, and 18 for ages 5-9, he said.

At least one of the more-recent new cases involved an 18-year-old in the Roaring Fork School District, Hohstadt said, adding he could not provide the specific town where that case was identified.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Valley View: hospital in good shape on COVID-19 front, but urges vigilance in face of recent uptick

Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs is “very safe and very ready” to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital’s chief medical officer said in a report to the Garfield County commissioners on Monday.

“I do want to emphasize that we are seeing more and more cases, especially since late June and early July,” Dr. David Brooks said via video conference during the commissioners’ weekly public health update.

That includes more patients being admitted with COVID-19, including an uptick in pregnant women who are coming in with the virus, and even a newborn who was diagnosed within the first day of birth, Brooks said.

“There is a vaccine coming, and that will be effective (in preventing disease spread),” Brooks said. In the meantime, “We all have to do what we need to do now to slow this increase in new cases.”

Brooks was invited by Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long to inform the commissioners on a key aspect in determining whether the county is successful in reversing its recent upward trend in newly confirmed COVID-19 cases — hospitalizations.

As of Tuesday, the county remained on the right track in at least two of four major statistical categories that determine the level of risk for spread of the potentially deadly virus, from which four Garfield County residents have died.

Both Garfield and Eagle counties remain in the highest-risk category, as determined by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Long said county health officials from Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties were to confer with the CDPHE Monday to review the situation in the tri-county region and discuss next steps. No determinations have been made regarding the county’s May 23 variance that allows area businesses to open more fully than state public health orders currently allow.

The good news for Garfield County is that its most-recent two-week onset of new cases — 42 between July 21 and Aug. 3 — is less than a third of what the county saw in the prior two-week period.

A total of 180 new onset cases were reported between July 7–20, based on when a person reported they first experienced symptoms, according to the county’s COVID-19 statistics webpage, which is updated daily.

Also trending down is the county’s case rate per 100,000 people, which as of Tuesday stood at 69.9 — down 16 percentage points from Monday and significantly less than a rate 110 per 100,000 reported in late July.

“That’s a pretty big positive for us,” Long said.

Still of major concern, though, is the county’s test positivity rate of 10.7% (the state wants to see that at 5% or less) and, to some degree, hospitalizations.

Valley View, which takes in patients from a broader region besides just Garfield County, saw 24 new hospitalizations and 22 discharges during July, and already has two new hospitalizations during the first week of August.

The hospital reported 10 hospitalizations in June and five discharges, according to hospital statistics released twice weekly.

Grand River Hospital in Rifle saw six new COVID-19 hospitalizations last month, after having just two between March and June.

“I want to emphasize that Valley View Hospital is in good shape at this time,” Dr. Brooks said during the Monday morning commissioners meeting. “As a hospital, we are fully operational … we are very safe for all kinds of care, and we are very ready for this pandemic.”

A Valley View Hospital worker prepares for COVID-19 testing.
Courtesy Valley View Hospital

Some hospital staff members have been infected with the virus, “but not in the facility,” he said. Those cases were contracted out in the community, he said.

“We are also better prepared to deal with this than we were three or four months ago, with a greater ability to test,” Brooks said.

In more urgent, higher-priority cases, a result can be obtained in one or two days, he said. However, in an effort to maintain testing supplies, only those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 are being tested, he added.

On the treatment front, “we are applying the medications that work,” Brooks said.

Responding to a question from one member of the public who commented during the Monday meeting and from Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, Brooks said that does not include hydroxychloroquine, at least per the hospital’s advice.

Anecdotally, hydroxychloroquine, a medication used to treat malaria, has been said to ease the symptoms of COVID-19. It has been touted by President Trump as a possible treatment, but its use has been advised against by the CDC and world health professionals as being unproven with possible risky side effects.

“We want those decisions to be between you and your provider,” Brooks said, adding there’s nothing to prevent a doctor from prescribing hydroxychloroquine with patient consent. However, “As an institution, we strive to follow the science- and evidence-based guidelines.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

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 …”

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.

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

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.

jstroud@postindependent.com

State asks Garfield County how it plans to mitigate surge in new coronavirus cases

Garfield County Public Health must advise the state how it plans to get a handle on the recent surge in new coronavirus cases locally, or risk a rollback of certain variances regarding business operations if the numbers keep rising.

County commissioners were informed late last week by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan that the county must file a mitigation plan outlining ways in which it will try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Three successive 14-day periods where the county exceeded 60 new symptomatic onset cases puts it in violation of a May 23 state variance that allowed Garfield County restaurants, gyms and fitness facilities and churches to operate at greater capacity than broader state rules allowed at the time.

While many of the statewide rules now mirror the local variance, the growing number of new COVID cases in Garfield County — 69, 122 and 78 in the last three rolling 14-day periods — is a concern, Ryan advised.

It’s not just Garfield County that’s being asked to address the local situation, Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long informed county commissioners Monday morning.

Eagle and Pitkin counties have also been asked to submit a mitigation plan, and are working with Garfield County to share some strategies, she said.

That’s due in large part to the fact that an ever-growing number of new cases are showing up in the commuter workforce that lives in Garfield County and works in the neighboring resort counties, Long said.

“We will have something in writing to them by midnight tonight (Monday),” Long said of the deadline given by the state to submit its mitigation plan. But that plan remains a work in progress jointly with the other two counties, she said.

Ryan advised in her letter to the county, “After receipt of the plan, the county will have two weeks to reverse the trend of increasing disease. We will re-evaluate your case count and positivity (rate) at that time, and may modify or remove the county’s variance …”

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

Cumulative cases as of Tuesday morning (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

Recently, public health officials in the tri-county region have stepped up education campaigns within the area’s Latino community and with employers about taking proper precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Many of the new cases are showing up among Latino workers who live in Garfield County.

“A large majority of these cases are coming from workplaces up valley, and people are bringing it home,” Mason Hohstadt, a public health specialist with the county, said during the regular update to commissioners. “We are trying to communicate more effectively in Spanish and English, and going in some different directions to get that information out to our Latino community.”

Last week, Garfield County Public Health issued an advisory against carpooling to and from job sites, which is one way it believes the disease is being transmitted.

“Social distancing (should) be done in vehicles as well as in person, by driving separately,” according to the advisory that was disseminated by press release and other means.

One thing working in Garfield County’s favor is its relatively low positivity rate among those being tested for COVID-19, Hohstadt said. While the county is in the “red” category for a high rate of viral spread based on its running 14-day total of new cases, its positivity rate of 5.3% is on the low end of the medium, or yellow category, he said.

For their part, county commissioners said they are not going to go against Gov. Jared Polis’s statewide executive order issued last week requiring the wearing of face masks/coverings in public places of business and where proper social distancing cannot be maintained.

Weld County commissioners have said they will not enforce the order, and some local residents suggested Monday that Garfield County should do the same, saying the order is unconstitutional.

“I don’t like the idea of telling people to wear a mask, but that’s not a battle I want to fight,” Commissioner Mike Samson said. “I have as much information saying it’s vitally important to wear a mask, as not.”

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky agreed, and said he’s not willing to risk a shutdown of Garfield County businesses by challenging the mask order.

“We have a war going on, and it’s against COVID-19,” Jankovsky said. “(Wearing masks) is a small thing to do to try to control this. I’m not going backwards on our economy and jobs.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Colorado’s public health officials are under attack as they respond to coronavirus

Joni Reynolds, the head of Gunnison County’s public health department, entered kind of a routine as the coronavirus crisis descended on Colorado earlier this year: Long hours. Sleepless nights. A police escort home.

A wave of threats over her efforts to keep her community safe amid the pandemic made her fear for her safety. There were also suspicious packages left outside her house and sent to her office, both of which were unsettling but weren’t dangerous.

“References to Nazism. Calling me Mrs. Hitler,” Reynolds said, recounting the contents of the hate mail she received. “Calling me vile names — curse words. Threatening harm to me, my family, my home. Assuring they would remove me from my job and take ‘all my worldly possessions.’”

Public health officials in every corner of Colorado have become the target of threats, vandalism and even attack ads in newspapers and on the radio as a result of their handling of the pandemic. 

Some have faced blowback from their bosses — often county commissioners — and have been forced out of their jobs. Others have resigned because the stress and pressure just aren’t worth it. 

With no end to the pandemic in sight, officials worry whether Colorado’s network of local public health departments can tamp down the vitriol while trying to keep on top of the worst pandemic the world has experienced in 100 years. At some point, they fear, the combined pressure could become too heavy.

Read the full story via The Colorado Sun.

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