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Garfield county, state officials in close communication over virus spike

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, orange, emerging from the surface of cells, green, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. (NIAID-RML via AP)

Garfield County Public Health is “at capacity” in terms of responding to and tracking the recent spike in new COVID-19 cases, conducting contact tracing and making sure the public stays informed.

And, while the county surpassed the number of cases in a recent 14-day period that could prompt a return to stricter requirements for businesses and group gatherings, so far it’s status-quo, public health officials said Friday.

“The state is aware of our increase in case numbers,” Carrie Godes, public health specialist for the county, said Friday. “We are working with them and doing the limited things that we can as a health department to control the spread.

But, “Public Health is at capacity and must turn to our broader community to bring the numbers back under control.”

Gov. Jared Polis pointed out in comments made Thursday about the move to the Protect Our Neighbors phase for reopening the state’s economy that government can control maybe 20% of the virus spread.

The other 80% falls on individuals and the business community to follow safety protocols, he said.

“Wear a damn mask,” Polis said at a news conference Thursday.

Just since July 3, Garfield County has seen 45 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total since the outbreak began in early March to 358.

Many of those newly reported cases date back based on symptom onset to mid-June. During the 14-day stretch from June 12 to 25, the county saw 83 new onset cases.

Some of the recent spike in cases can be attributed to the influx of tourists into the region, but not a lot, Godes said.

“It’s certainly a concern when we have a lot of people coming in and out from outside the area,” she said.

In a few cases, visitors have experienced symptoms while on vacation here and got tested locally, Godes said. But that’s a very small percentage of cases, she said, adding the vast majority continue to be workplace related and spread within family or household units.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment variance that was granted to Garfield County on May 23 requires that, if the county exceeds 60 cases over a 14-day period, Garfield Public Health is to inform the state and implement plans to rein that number in.

The variance allowed restaurants, places of worship, gyms and fitness facilities to open at greater capacity (50% or as many as 175 people at a time) than the state would allow.

Since that time, though, the variance has become largely outdated with the statewide implementation of new public health orders that basically mirrored what Garfield County was granted.

“The state does provide a period for correction,” Godes said of the recent spike in new cases locally. “It does not mean that if you hit it once, that the variance is automatically withdrawn.”

The Protect Our Neighbors phase requires that counties apply to be given greater local control over certain restrictions. That can include allowing businesses to operate at full capacity, but with social distancing measures.

At this point, with 47 cases in the most recent 14-day period, Garfield County does not qualify, Godes said.

“Even though the variance was not revoked, these numbers are still alarming and cause for widespread community action,” she said. “In order to move into the next phase of reopening … a county must demonstrate stable or declining viral spread.”

That means “having difficult discussions and trying to determine the appropriate actions to take.”

In many ways, the latest spike in new cases — including a recent increase in new hospitalizations and one new death earlier this month — resembles the situation in March when the pandemic began, Godes said.

“Now more than ever we need to fall back on the only answers that we have, which is that individual actions make a collective difference,” she said.

That means wearing a mask in places of business and when in close contact with other people, socializing in small groups, staying 6 feet apart, getting tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms of fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing, and staying home when sick, whether it’s from the coronavirus or something else.

The latest surge in new coronavirus cases also has resulted in more hospitalizations in the more serious cases.

As of Friday, three Garfield County residents remained hospitalized, either locally or outside the county. Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs had two current COVID-19 patients, and Grand River Health reported Thursday that it had one new hospitalization.

Valley View’s ability to care for all types of patients, including COVID cases, remains strong, VVH spokeswoman Stacey Gavrell said.

“We are definitely concerned about the increase of COVID cases in the community, and we ask all of our community members to practice physical distancing, wear masks and wash hands not only for our individual and collective health, but to support our economic recovery and overall ability to return to essential activities such as school,” Gavrell said in a statement.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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