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COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Aspen area

Healthcare providers perform a real-time test for Coronavirus on patients with appointments outside of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department’s Aspen Village Location on Thursday, March 12, 2020. The testing location is for patients with appointments scheduled through the Pitkin County Coronavirus Hotline.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

As Pitkin County enters its 22nd week of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the region, local public health officials said Tuesday that community spread of the virus is a cause of concern.

Community spread is the percentage of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 who don’t know how or where they were exposed, according to Josh Vance, an epidemiologist with the county, who presented updated statistics and data to Aspen City Council and county commissioners during a joint work session on Tuesday.

The goal for community spread is 5%, and the county is hovering around 40%.

“That’s always a concerning indicator because it means that we may be missing cases somewhere,” Vance said. “What that tends to mean is that there are people out there who are asymptomatic and then they don’t know they are passing on the disease to others and people are getting infected.”

What also is of concern to local officials is that they are seeing high transmission rates in Eagle and Garfield counties, both of which are home to thousands of people who work and travel to Pitkin County daily.

“Our community spread is an indicator that feels pretty uncomfortable for us when we can’t trace back to the known source and then also recognizing our interconnected depth with Eagle and Garfield and what we are seeing in those communities; they are both in the red zone in their ‘Coronameter,’” said Karen Koenemann, the county’s public health director. “So because of what’s happening in our neighboring communities, I feel like we are a little bit more cautious and a little bit more on high alert right now because of what’s happening next door to us.”

Vance reported that as of Tuesday there have been 181 confirmed cases in Pitkin County since the beginning of the pandemic.

Contact tracing in Pitkin County ramped up in mid-July. Since July 13, there have been 261 contacts with people who have been in contact with somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Our contact tracers have made that many phone calls in the last two-and-a-half-week period, which averages to about 3.3 exposed persons per case,” Vance said.

He added that 28 people are currently isolating and 57 have been asked to quarantine.

Those who are in isolation have either COVID-19 symptoms, tested positive or were exposed to someone who has the disease.

Those in quarantine have been exposed but do not have symptoms.

Public health officials also want to improve the turnaround times on COVID-19 test results.

“From the time somebody develops their first symptom, it takes about four days until they go and have a specimen collected, and that’s a pretty long time,” Vance said. “We’d like to get that down to two days if possible because the longer it takes from somebody to get tested the further behind we are when we try to implement our contact tracing.”

He said it takes an average of three days to get results back, but recently it’s been 10 or 11 days.

While the average number of days is seven from the time a person is tested to getting results, local officials said they prefer a five-day window.

“We want this number to be as small as possible because it allows us to box in the virus and allows us to contact trace more effectively,” Vance said.

He reported that there have been 12 outbreaks of COVID-19 cases since March but only seven of them have included Pitkin County residents; the other five have included businesses in Pitkin County but the cases were either in a different county or out of state.

Local public health officials have contacted at least 36 businesses in Pitkin County that have had cases associated or individuals with COVID-19; however, some of those persons also were from Eagle or Garfield counties, or out of state, Vance said.

Almost 30% of the positive cases in Pitkin County are from people who do not live in Pitkin County.

“We would like to see this number reduced, as well,” Vance said.

He stressed that the local public health team is doing what it can to drop the number of cases, which have seen a surge since the Fourth of July holiday.

“Over a two-week period we want to have less than 15 cases reported; that would be about one per day but we’re much higher than that. I think we are at 37 right now that we’ve seen in the past 14 days,” Vance said. “If we can get that lower we are going to feel better about it, but right now we’re still seeing pretty high transmission.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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