50 isolated after contact with City Market workers

Shoppers line up outside the El Jebel City Market on March 15 as the pandemic unfolded, The store said Sunday that four associates tested positive for COVID-19 last week though the source isn't believed to be the store.
Aspen Times file

Around 50 people who had contact with four El Jebel City Market employees who later tested positive for COVID-19 were in quarantine Tuesday in Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle counties, an official said.

Seventeen of the contacts were in Pitkin County, County Manager Jon Peacock said Tuesday. Those people were in isolation and were being monitored by public health employees, he told county commissioners during their weekly work session.

“This is an example of how we stop the spread,” Peacock said. “You can see how quickly it gets complicated.”

The four City Market employees were confirmed as positive cases Sunday by a grocery store spokeswoman. They were believed to have been exposed to COVID-19 at gatherings outside the store, with City Market not being suspected as the source of the infection, the spokeswoman said.

The first case identified belonged to a Pitkin County resident, Peacock said Tuesday. The other cases required involving contact tracers from Garfield and Eagle counties, who went to work looking into those contacts, he said.

Peacock did not have the exact number of contacts the four employees had in Garfield and Eagle counties, though he said the total number in the three counties was about 50.

If those contacts develop COVID-19-related symptoms, they will be tested, Peacock said. They will be quarantined for 14 days from the time of their contact with the infected individuals, he said.

Public health authorities have specific criteria that determines whether a person is considered an official contact. For example, a 15-minute, face-to-face conversation with a COVID-19 positive person would be enough for the uninfected person to be considered a “contact,” a Pitkin County epidemiologist said last week.

Pitkin County will begin using rapid-PCR testing for the virus this month, which takes about 45 minutes to provide results, Peacock said. Previously, test results could take days.

He emphasized that Pitkin County and Aspen residents and visitors need to continue to observe good hygiene, observe social-distancing protocols, wear facemasks in public and get tested at Aspen Valley Hospital if virus-related symptoms arise. People’s personal physicians can order a test in that case, while those without a doctor can call AVH at 970-279-4111 to be referred for testing.

Walk-in testing is not available. Those who cannot pay for the test will not be charged.

“Frankly, I think our social distancing has gone out the window,” Commissioner George Newman said. “Out-of-towners have their own set of rules and values.”

Peacock told the county commissioners Tuesday the county is working on a marketing campaign directed toward visitors emphasizing the proper procedures to follow here to prevent the spread of the virus.

That will include procedures at the airport, where officials asked for an extra $500,000 on Tuesday for supplies, including chemical fogging, to keep the facility disinfected.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is one of the busiest buildings on the Western Slope when it is running at full capacity, Peacock said.

At an Aspen City Council meeting Tuesday night, the council told the city manager they wanted their own enforcement team to patrol the bars and restaurants and not wait on the county. Plans are expected to be presented next week by the city staff.

Last week, Piktin County commissioners approved $600,000 to start enforcement and hiring two consumer protection inspectors among other positions. Pitkin County plans to hire two case investigation supervisors, four contact tracers, an epidemiologist and a data manager for the case investigation program.

County officials received permission Tuesday from commissioners to lobby the state public health department to alter its criteria for distributing about $159.5 million in federal funds to cover COVID-19-related costs. If successful, the county could get more funding than it now would under the distribution rules the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment floated recently, he said.

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