COVID cases rising again in Pitkin County with looser restrictions |

COVID cases rising again in Pitkin County with looser restrictions

A parking lot near the Benedict Music Tent sits empty Tuesday after a separate tent used as a vaccine drive-thru clinic collapsed due to winter weather. A round of second vaccinations is scheduled at the lot for Thursday. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Cases of COVID-19 are again inching up in Pitkin County, possibly because of spring break crowds and loosening of restrictions, an official said Tuesday.

In order to remain under the Yellow restrictions, the county cannot have more than 90 cases in a seven-day period. On Monday, that seven-day rate was 100 — which qualifies the county for Orange-level restrictions — though it dropped back down again to 90 on Tuesday, according to local epidemiology data.

The county’s positivity rate, meanwhile, has been solidly in the Orange level for more than a week, according to the data. That rate cannot rise above 7.5% if the county is to remain in Yellow. The positivity rate stood at 8.5% on Tuesday and reached a high of 9.9% on Saturday, according to the local data.

State public health officials recently told local public health officials that a county with under 30,000 residents will be moved to a more restrictive level if those two metrics are in the Orange for five consecutive days, said Jon Peacock, Pitkin County manager. The state would contact the county on the fifth consecutive day, send a letter about the move on the sixth day and move the county to the more restrictive level on the seventh day, he said.

Also of concern lately is the number of variants detected in Pitkin County, he said.

As of Tuesday, 10 cases of the California variant and three cases of the U.K. variant had been positively confirmed here, according to local epidemiology data. Another 13 cases of the U.K. variant and one more case of the California variant are suspected but not yet confirmed, according to that data.

“This is a very normal and expected process with viruses,” Peacock said. “(The variants) have a higher transmission rate and tend to move more quickly through the population.”

In addition, it appears from recently conducted studies that the variants have a longer incubation period and lead to a higher viral load than the original strain of COVID-19, he said. That means that suspected cases involving one of the variants will require the full 14-day quarantine period for those in close contact with the positive person, who has to isolate for the 10 days, which is recommended by the CDC for the original strain.

No evidence exists to show that the variants cause more severe illness and the vaccines are effective against the variants, Peacock said.

The county plans to hold a vaccination clinic Thursday to dispense 1,170 second doses of vaccine, he said. Pitkin County requested 2,340 first doses of vaccine from the state this week but received none.

“Boy, are we on a rollercoaster with this,” Peacock said. “Last week we were, frankly, disappointed we got 300 (first) doses. We have been in touch with (the state public health department) with concerns.”

County officials plan to put up another tent at the vaccination site near the Benedict Music Tent after the original collapsed last weekend under the strain of the wet, heavy snow that fell, he said.

County public health and employees of Aspen Valley Hospital are trying to counteract some of the hesitancy among some residents — including local teachers — to getting vaccinated, he said.

“Unfortunately, some people still choose to get their information from social media,” Peacock said. “We’re trying to fight against that hesitancy.”

According to newly released CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people can be indoors with groups of as many as 10 people without having to wear face masks or practice social distancing. They also can visit with non-vaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for COVID-19 without wearing a mask or social distancing.

Fully vaccinated residents also do not have to quarantine following a known exposure if they don’t show symptoms of the virus.

The guidance only applies to private settings and not public areas like health care facilities, workplaces or public indoor spaces.

In other COVID-19 related news, Pitkin County is expected to receive $3.4 million out of the $2 billion Colorado is scheduled to receive from the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package recently passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, Peacock said. Local municipalities are expected to receive money from the relief package as well, he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been update to reflect that that those with the variant need to isolate for 10 days and their close contacts need to quarantine for the full 14 days.

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