Eagle County public health director addresses coronavirus issues
The Aspen Times posed the following questions to Eagle County Public Health and Environment Director Heath Harmon. Here are his responses Monday via email.
Aspen Times: Do you anticipate a greater number of tests being conducted as availability and additional capacity to process them grows?
Heath Harmon: In an ideal situation, testing would not be limited and we would test everyone who may have symptoms. However, our experience has been that supplies, capacity and even the personal protective equipment necessary for health care workers is in short supply locally and nationally.
Commercial labs are now available for testing, which has helped increase the capacity, but in a nation of nearly 330 million people our collective testing capacity will remain limited in the short-term. I do believe that capacity over time will improve, though.
Currently, Eagle County Public Health and Environment works closely with Pitkin County Public Health and as testing events are implemented in the Roaring Fork Valley, residents from both counties will have access.
AT: Some residents of the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County are stressed by not being able to find out if there have been positive test results for COVID-19 in this part of the county. Eagle County contends that is the wrong focus. Why?
HH: Testing numbers are not a greater indicator of risk of exposure in a community given limitations in availability, supplies and the time it takes to receive the test results.
We want our community members to know the virus is in the Roaring Fork Valley. We want to further convey the importance of taking precautions that will limit exposure and slow the spread of the virus. These include:
• Remaining home except to obtain essential services like getting groceries or medications
• Avoiding crowds and social gatherings
• Maintaining separation from other people, especially if they are sick (e.g. coughing)
• Washing your hands frequently
• Staying home and isolating yourself if you are sick
Lastly, it is important for us to be clear that we are held to numerous laws that require us to maintain confidentiality. This becomes even more limiting in small communities. So the best we can communicate is the virus is in the Roaring Fork Valley and we want you to take precautions to protect yourself and your community.
AT: If a person in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County suspects they have symptoms of the virus, what should they do?
HH: Stay home. This is most important. They should also know that many people who have tested positive for COVID-19 had very mild symptoms to start, like sore throat, headache and nasal congestion. If these symptoms develop, they should first stay home or go home. Then they can call their primary health care provider who can provide more specific guidance related to their medical history. If they are going to be tested, the medical provider will provide instructions on where and how.
AT: If a person in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county tests positive for COVID-19, what action does the county take?
HH: The actions for everyone that tests positive for COVID-19 are the same, regardless of where they live.
• Remain at home
• Isolate yourself from others in your household
• Contact your health care provider if symptoms are getting worse (i.e. difficulty breathing)
• A call will be made from our Disease Prevention Team to the infected person to assess how they are feeling, determine if they need further medical evaluation, provide them with information about the disease, answer their questions, talk about their isolation while symptomatic, and develop a list of contacts that may be at greatest risk for exposure. We then call those close contacts (especially household members, partners, health care workers) to talk about their exposure and provide information related to their quarantine. Isolation orders for the infected person and quarantine orders for contacts assessed to be at high risk of exposure may be issued.
Lastly, through all of these phone calls we also develop an understanding of who may need assistance to help ensure they can follow the isolation or quarantine guidance. Our goal is to make sure if someone needs food assistance or medications, that we can help make those arrangements to that they can successfully fulfill their isolation or quarantine.
AT: What is the best way to stay informed about developments in Eagle County?