Pitkin County public health order extended through Sept. 30 | AspenTimes.com
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Pitkin County public health order extended through Sept. 30

A screenshot from the COVID-19 community meeting presentation Aug. 13, 2020.

The current Pitkin County Public Health order that mandates wearing masks outside when social distancing can’t take place and keeps the informal gathering limit at 10 people has been extended through Sept. 30, health officials said Thursday during the virtual community meeting.

The order was set to expire Friday and could be amended before Sept. 30 depending on the local disease transmission data and severity of COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County.

But until then, gatherings of between 11 and 50 people require an approved permit, safety plan and designated event coordinator; restaurants and retail stores can operate at 50% capacity with 50 people max; masks are a must; and visitors must experience 10 days without COVID-19 symptoms before they arrive to the Aspen area, according to Jordana Sabella, planning, prevention and partnerships manager for Pitkin County Public Health.

Sabella also said public health officials are continuing to encourage people to spend as much time as possible with just members of their households and to limit social interactions beyond that.

“The overarching goal with this public health order and all of the work that we’re doing in the public health department right now is to continue to drive down disease transmission,” Sabella said during the public meeting Thursday.

“We’re looking at really driving this down before Labor Day, continuing to work toward getting schools back in session and we echo the comments of appreciating all of the work that the community is doing.” As of Thursday evening, there were no new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Pitkin County.

In fact, according to county epidemiologist Josh Vance, there haven’t been any new COVID-19 cases confirmed over the past five days. He also said on a national, state and tri-county levels, there’s been a slight decline in new COVID-19 cases confirmed daily over the past few weeks.

However, community spread of COVID-19 — which refers to the percentage of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 but can’t pinpoint how or where they were exposed to the disease — in Pitkin County is at 36.8%, down slightly from the 39.3% reported at the Board of Public Health meeting last week.

Because community spread is still the largest COVID-19 exposure source in the county, Vance said Thursday it’s important to remain vigilant and also emphasized that the slight daily case declines seen across the state and the country do not mean people should get complacent or that restrictions should be relaxed.

“I think it’s a combination of factors that we’re seeing that have contributed to our reduction in case counts,” Vance said, specifically noting the stricter mask mandates put in place locally, statewide and nationally in recent weeks.

“(Even though Pitkin County) hasn’t seen new cases in the past few days, we know the virus is still here in the valley and we still need to continue to take those safeguards.”

Dave Ressler, CEO of Aspen Valley Hospital, and Dr. Catherine Bernard, an emergency medicine physician and chief of staff at AVH, expressed similar thoughts.

Over the past two weeks AVH has not had anyone admitted or transferred out to another hospital due to COVID-19 symptoms and is very much in the “comfortable” zone. Many of the hospital’s risk indicators like the number of daily emergency department and respiratory evaluation visits and the number of essential healthcare workers out with COVID-19 have recently decreased or have remained stable, Ressler and Bernard said.

Both AVH officials commended the community for its continued work to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease and for the public health department’s efforts, but echoed the sentiment of needing to stay vigilant.

“I think we need to be clear, we’re decreasing but (COVID) has not disappeared,” Bernard said. “We are still seeing cases. I am an ER physician and I see one patient to three patients a day … the majority of them are not terribly ill, we haven’t admitted or transferred out a patient in a couple of weeks and I do believe that’s due to the fact that all of us are doing our part to decrease viral transmission. But the virus is still there so we cannot let our guard down.”

During the community meeting Thursday, health officials also talked about the new “coronameter,” a visual designed to concisely and comprehensively show what phase or zone of COVID-19 concern/risk the county is in. The meter showed Pitkin in the yellow-bordering-orange risk zone Thursday, or cautious verging on concerned. Blue, or comfortable, is the most “low risk” zone aligned with the “protect our neighbor” public health order phase, and red, or very high risk, at the other end of the meter aligned with going back to the stay-at-home phase.

On top of discussing how to continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, county officials also talked about public safety and health related to the wildfires burning nearby in Garfield County: the Grizzly Creek Fire in and around Glenwood Canyon burning around 6,200 acres and the Pine Gulch Fire in western Garfield County burning more than 68,000 acres north of Grand Junction.

Laryssa Dandeneau, COVID-19 program administrator for Pitkin County, talked about how wildfire smoke can negatively impact respiratory health.

“Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system and make you more prone to lung infections, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Dandeneau said.

She encouraged locals to limit outdoor exercise when it’s smoky and emphasized that while masks and face coverings don’t protect against wildfire smoke, they’re not harmful to wear when it’s smoky outside.

“I just want to remind you to please wear your mask when you are outdoors around people within 6- eet and of course in the mandatory mask zones,” Dandeneau said.

She went onto explain that dry cough, sore throat or difficulty breathing are symptoms of both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19, but fever or chills, muscle or body aches, or diarrhea are COVID-19 symptoms not related to smoke exposure. Dandeneau said if anyone is concerned about the symptoms they’re experiencing, they should contact their health care provider.

The next community meeting with local public health officials will take place Aug. 27 at 1 p.m. and is set to include school officials and discussion surrounding what the 2020-21 school year could look like.

mvincent@aspentimes.com


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