COVID rates plunge as Aspen hockey outbreak eases

Local, state health officials remain hopeful going into Thanksgiving weekend

After a COVID-19 outbreak related to youth and adult hockey games in Aspen spiked local case numbers and incidence rates last week, the rate of transmission dropped significantly this week, according to Pitkin County statistics.

Members of the community also continue to be accepting of the vaccine and booster shots, with 35% of children ages 5-to-11 having already been vaccinated so far — with more pediatric clinics on the way — and adults signing up for boosters at regular local clinics, according to the county’s COVID-19 website.

“We’re doing all the things we can at this point,” Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County public health director, said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re hoping folks gather safely with their loved ones (for Thanksgiving).”

Pitkin County logged 23 new cases of COVID-19 among residents between Nov. 17 and Wednesday, which translated into an incidence rate of 130 per 100,000, according to a weekly data summary posted Wednesday on the county’s COVID-19 website. The county was having troubles with the website this week, and normal daily updates were not available, including the number of out-of-county cases.

Still, the numbers were much lower than those last week, when the weekly count of new cases rocketed into the 50s and 60s, with a weekly high of 72 on Nov. 17. Incidence rates also jumped, from the high 100s into the 300s per 100,000 people.

Local public health officials have blamed a series of hockey games at two ice rinks in Aspen and one in Glenwood Springs for the outbreak that sickened at least 72 adults and children.

The numbers reported Wednesday, however, tracked with the decreasing transmission rates Pitkin County had been seeing before the hockey outbreak.

Local public health officials have credited the decreasing transmission rates to the countywide indoor mask mandate, which began Sept. 16, while much of the rest of the state, without a mask mandate, has seen increasing rates since then.

Of the 23 new cases locally, 15 were breakthrough cases from fully vaccinated residents, while eight were unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, according to the weekly data summary. Five of the new cases were among children, students, teachers or school staff.

Aspen Valley Hospital remained in “comfortable” mode Wednesday with hospitalizations — with just one in the past two weeks and no COVID ICU admissions — and the health of staff members. The hospital was under the “cautious” flag when it came to its ability to transfer patients in need of a higher level of care because 95% of ICU beds and 94% of acute care beds in Colorado were in use. The unvaccinated made up 84% of those hospitalized, according to the weekly summary.

“Getting a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is the single best way to prevent the spread of the virus,” according to a news release Wednesday from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urging residents statewide to take measures to reduce transmission over Thanksgiving. “Vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe symptoms and hospitalization, but science shows now that immunity from the vaccine does wane.”

The state public health department urged all adults who have had the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least six months ago to make an appointment locally and receive a booster shot.

In Pitkin County, 94% of residents — 16,715 to be exact — have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 76% were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to the data summary. So far, about 15% of fully vaccinated adults — about 2,700 people — in the county have received a booster shot.

“We suspect that it’s higher than that,” Sabella said, citing data reporting glitches her department is trying to clear up.

Several vaccine and booster clinics coming up in the Aspen area had appointments available Wednesday, including one Friday in El Jebel from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the English in Action parking lot (33 Gillespie Dr.).

Other clinics will take place Dec. 11-12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at Aspen City Hall, which will offer adults and pediatric vaccine doses, booster shots and flu vaccine shots.

With about 35% of Pitkin County’s children 5-11 already vaccinated, a second dose-only clinic is on tap for Dec. 3 at Aspen High School from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. for appointments only. The state’s Mobile Vax Bus will be at Aspen Middle School Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for first and second pediatric vaccine doses only, when walkups are welcome.

The vax bus will be at Basalt Middle School Dec. 7-8 for adult and pediatric vaccines, though no boosters will be available then. Walk-ups are welcome at the Basalt clinics.

Go to and click on “Get Vaccinated” to make an appointment at any of the clinics.

Finally, the state public health department’s chief medical officer urged Coloradoans on Wednesday to look out for each other, get vaccinated, stay vaccinated and thank a medical professional for Turkey Day.

“Health care workers across Colorado have been on the frontlines doing heroic and tireless work to combat the COVID-19 pandemic for more than 20 months now,” Dr. Eric France said in a press release. “This Thanksgiving, let’s make sure it’s not thankless by showing our gratitude for these consummate professionals.”

More Like This, Tap A Topic