COVID-19 mitigation, response efforts continue in Pitkin County |

COVID-19 mitigation, response efforts continue in Pitkin County

Although Aspen Valley Hospital hasn’t experienced what it would consider a “surge” of COVID-19 related cases yet, medical officials aren’t relaxing AVH’s preparation and public outreach.

“We are staying vigilant with our efforts to prepare for a surge in the coming weeks,” Jennifer Slaughter, chief marketing officer for AVH, said Sunday afternoon via email.

“We ask the community to do its part to help flatten the curve. Please take social distancing seriously so that we have the best chance of not overwhelming our service capacities at the hospital.”

Slaughter said AVH had admitted three patients with COVID-19 symptoms since Friday. Only two patients have been transferred to a “higher level of care” outside of AVH since March 9, Slaughter said.

She also said that since March 10, 42 total AVH employees have been out with some type of fever, cough or other combination of symptoms, but more than half have returned to work or are expected to return by April 2.

Along with continuing to ensure it is prepared for a potential surge and to monitor the health of its staff, AVH also plans to expand its alternative respiratory tent operations from five to seven days a week starting Monday. The tent aims to screen patients referred to the hospital with respiratory symptoms but is only a place to evaluate patients, not to test them for COVID-19.

However, at AVH, 16 patients have been tested for COVID-19 since March 9, three of which were health care workers. Six of the tests have come back positive, Slaughter said.

As of Sunday afternoon, there had been two confirmed COVID-19-related deaths in Pitkin County. The first was a 94-year-old man who died at his Aspen home March 24, and the second was a 55-year-old man who reportedly died two days before police officers found him during a March 27 welfare check, as previously reported.

The 55-year-old man was identified as Pauli Laukkanen, who was from Sweden and had lived in Aspen for many years, according to a news release from Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers.

The 94-year-old man’s identity will not be released anytime soon, Ayers said Sunday, as the man’s family is quarantined in different areas and wants to be able to grieve together in person before his name is released.

“I’m not sure if they’ve all been notified but they don’t want to have the name released until they can physically be with each other to handle the grief and we’ve decided to honor that,” Ayers said of the man’s family via text message Sunday.

Ayers also said Sunday that the COVID-19 test results of a third recent death in the county came back negative, allowing for an autopsy to be conducted.

The third recent death was a local man in his 50s who is believed to have died from an unknown medical problem unrelated to COVID-19. Ayers said more information would be released as it becomes available this week.

At the local emergency operations level, the Roaring Fork Valley team managing the local virus response is “in a holding pattern right now,” said Bill Linn, team spokesperson and assistant Aspen police chief. He did not expect any major response strategy updates or public health orders to be implemented in the near future as of Sunday afternoon.

At the state level, Colorado emergency response officials learned over the weekend that President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state, making emergency aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program available.

This aid is awarded as a 75% reimbursement for emergency protective measures like Emergency Operations Center-related costs, medical care within a shelter or temporary medical facility, and security and law enforcement, according to FEMA documents.

Moving forward, the state of Colorado may submit qualifying costs accrued since Jan. 20 as a result of its COVID-19 outbreak response to FEMA, which will offer a 75% reimbursement through its public assistance grant program. Local governments like Pitkin County can apply for the same 75% reimbursement for its COVID-19 emergency costs through the state as well, a news release states.

However, Micki Trost, strategic communications director for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Sunday this reimbursement process is long and complicated, meaning the state won’t receive the FEMA aid right away.

In Pitkin County, the novel coronavirus pandemic became a pointed local concern after a 21-year-old Australian woman who visited Aspen tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning home. CDPHE officials released the woman’s positive test results March 8, and 13 Australians traveling with the woman but still in Aspen went into isolation soon after.

On Sunday, The Aspen Times sought to learn if the Australians isolating in Aspen earlier this month had returned home. Karen Koenemann, county health director, said that because the visitors were not Pitkin County residents and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has “been the lead on this cluster,” the state health department would have that information.

CDPHE officials said Sunday afternoon via email that the state health officials do not provide specific information about people in quarantine or isolation unless it is necessary to protect public health. Because the Australians began isolating about three weeks ago, it is unlikely that they are still in isolation in Aspen, CDPHE officials said.

Through Saturday, there were 2,307 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across 46 counties, with 27 cases reported in Pitkin County, according to CDPHE’s Sunday case data update. The department’s data also shows there have been 47 deaths in Colorado related to COVID-19.

According to CDPHE survey results from 45,000 Coloradans on their perceptions and attitudes toward the novel coronavirus pandemic, 72% of respondents said they are “very concerned” about COVID-19 in Colorado and nearly 90% think it’s somewhat or very likely that they will get sick from the virus.

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