Aspen area resident tests pending as 10th Aussie case confirmed
Authorities confirmed the 10th case of COVID-19 in Aspen on Thursday as they waited for test results from samples taken from numerous local residents with possible virus-related symptoms.
Thursday’s positive test meant that all 10 members of a traveling group of Australians who visited Aspen recently and were tested this week by public health officials turned out to be “presumptive positive” for the coronavirus. Another three people declined to be tested for the virus though they also displayed symptoms associated with it.
All 13, who remain in isolation in Aspen, were members of a group of 18 Australians who visited Aspen recently and developed symptoms after a fellow member of the group returned home and tested positive for COVID-19. They are all experiencing mild symptoms, said Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County public health director.
Public health officials have not made clear why the other five people in the group who were not symptomatic were not monitored. The latest presumptive positive test was a man in his 70s, according to a state news release.
Despite the continued isolation here of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, the virus is probably now making its way through the Aspen community and other Colorado cities and towns, according to a Wednesday news release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
“Based on the information CDPHE is receiving from presumptive positive cases, CDPHE has reason to suspect we are seeing limited community spread in Colorado,” the release states.
Local and state public health officials echoed that forecast Thursday during the media conference call.
“As we start to see the spread of this disease increase exponentially across the state … there will be a point where we’re not going to be able to rely on testing (to track cases),” said Jill Ryan, CDPHE executive director. “People just are going to have to stay home when they’re sick.”
Koenemann said much the same thing, while appealing to residents to do their individual part to tamp down the virus’ spread.
“We know that community spread is the next step,” she said. “I don’t think we want to forget that everybody here in our community can be empowered to take their own actions (like washing hands or staying home if sick).
“Everybody in the community has a role to play in that, from the individual to the organization to public health to first responders, and I really want to get that message clear, that we’re all in this together right now.”
Health officials in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties issued a joint public health order late Thursday night prohibiting events with more than 50 attendees effective immediately and lasting until at least April 8.
“Not only has COVID-19 presented in our tri-county region, but there has also been community trasmission between affected individuals,” the news release stated. “The role of counties is to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens.”
Pitkin County public health officials said Thursday they did not yet have test results back from samples collected Wednesday from local residents and sent to the state lab in Denver. Two samples were collected at Aspen Valley Hospital, while 11 more were taken at an offsite testing facility, a deputy public health director said.
Test results generally take 24 hours once they’re received at the state lab, Koenemann said.
On Thursday, officials at another testing site set up at the Aspen Village fire station expected to collect between 20 and 30 more samples from “individuals in our vulnerable population” that will be sent to Denver for testing, said Gabe Muething, Aspen Ambulance director and one of three heads of the local team managing Aspen’s virus outbreak.
“This is not an open testing site for anyone to just drive through without an appointment and without prior screening,” Muething said on the media call Thursday. “These individuals have all been screened prior to asking them to come to this testing site.”
Testing at that site lasted only through Thursday afternoon. The Incident Management Team suspended testing at remote locations Thursday, after they had gone through the people at risk and in the vulnerable population who had been prescreened with symptoms, he said.
It’s an issue of resources here on the ground, as well as the capacity of the lab at the CDPHE, he said. Twelve people were screened Thursday, and when those people on the list were finished they shut down the operation.
“We are taking a more focused approach,” he said, adding that testing is valuable for those who are suffering from severe symptoms.
No offsite testing is scheduled in the near future, he said.
“We did more community testing (Wednesday),” Koenemann said. “And so we’re waiting to get those test results back and that will indicate to us that we have other people in our community (who are) positive.”
The overall message from public health officials Thursday is that COVID-19 isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
“We do think this is going to be with us for a while,” Ryan said. “It may slow down in the summer because, during warm months, diseases tend to thrive a little bit less than in winter …
“But it could pick up again in the winter, so I wanted to set the expectation (that) we’re in it for the long haul.”
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