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EagleCo to enter COVID orange zone Monday

Nate Peterson
Vail Daily

With local COVID-19 cases spiking in Eagle County, officials are preparing for the move into the high-risk phase of the state’s COVID-19 dial by 5 p.m. Monday.

The transmission of the virus in Eagle County is at its highest point since the onset of the pandemic. In the orange phase of the state’s dial, local restaurants, gyms, retail stores, offices and personal service businesses can only operate at 25% capacity or fewer than 50 people. The same goes for indoor events.

A recurring pattern

Heath Harmon, Eagle County’s public health director, told community leaders Thursday morning during a call hosted by the Vail Chamber and Business Association that incident rates of COVID-19 transmission currently exceed the county’s two previous spikes in March and July.

“We need to level this off and go down,” Harmon said. “That window is getting more narrow. We’ve done this before. We did this in August. This is really important for us to have a healthier winter with less disruption for all of you.”

If the county numbers continue to rise, the return of a stay-at-home order looms in the red phase of the dial.

Harmon said virus transmission in the county was already trending upward heading into Halloween weekend, which only fueled the surge, just like the county’s previous spike occurred following the Fourth of July holiday.

On Thursday’s call, he said 50% of new cases are residents between the ages of 19 and 35. And in a county email update Thursday, he wrote: “Halloween has demonstrated that we can and must do better. We continue to investigate multiple parties related to the holiday that have led to several outbreaks of COVID-19.”

The trends follow national and state trends as the virus has exploded across the country. On Thursday, Colorado’s top epidemiologist said the state’s surge is getting worse, not better.

Harmon said residents have three to four weeks to turn things around to ensure a successful start to the ski season. That means making some hard choices when it comes to Thanksgiving.

“The safest choice is really having that Thanksgiving event with your own household,” he said.

Under the current public health guidelines, in-home gatherings are limited to less than 10 and no more than two households.

Will Cook, the CEO and president of Vail Health, echoed Harmon’s call to action, noting that the state’s hospital system is more stressed than it has been at any point since the start of the pandemic.

He also said that the second-order consequences of the pandemic, such as food security, economic woes, substance abuse and mental health issues, will only become more exacerbated if the county is forced to shut down again and schools closed to in-person learning.

“This is not a political issue,” Cook said. “It’s a reality that we’re facing.”

Prioritizing case investigations

In a text Friday, an Eagle County official said case investigators are now beyond their capacity to trace every single local case with over 100 cases reported in two days. Case investigations are being prioritized based on age and occupation (if known), and potential outbreaks (if known), schools and child care. Once investigators work through the priority groups, they’ll move to contacting the remaining cases.

With so many new cases, the county is also asking residents to act without waiting for public health intervention by isolating for 10 days if you are sick or test positive and to quarantine at home for 14 days if you are exposed to someone who has COVID-like symptoms or tests positive.

County operational changes

In response to the increased transmission of COVID-19 in the community, as well as a request from the governor’s office, the county will be restricting in-person interactions at county facilities beginning Monday but will continue to provide services via phone and/or online.

Office- and department-specific changes at county offices and contact information are available at http://www.eaglecounty.us. These precautions will be in effect through the end of November, then will be reevaluated.

Community information and resources in response to COVID-19 are available at http://www.eaglecountycovid.org.


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