Official: Based on stats and math, Pitkin County has low rate of infection
Based on the number of hospital admissions and other local statistics, between 500 and 700 Pitkin County residents have or have had COVID-19 since early March, an epidemiologist said Tuesday.
In a county with a population of about 18,000 permanent residents, that means a large number of residents have yet to get the disease, which is a main reason why public health officials are acting conservatively in unwinding social-distancing orders, said Charlie Spickert, an epidemiologist working with Pitkin County.
“We’ve had success flattening the curve,” Spickert said Tuesday during a meeting of the Pitkin County Board of Health. “But a majority of the population is still susceptible (to COVID-19).”
That is why Public Health Director Karen Koenemann on Monday extended Pitkin County’s stay-at-home order another week until May 8, which will allow officials to assess the impact of opening construction, landscaping and other businesses late last week. The process will allow the county to “carefully and slowly allow the population to go back to work,” Spickert said.
“We need to find a way to live with COVID-19 for what is likely an extended period of time,” he said.
Spickert was able to extrapolate the estimated number of cases in Pitkin County by first considering that Aspen Valley Hospital has had 27 patient admissions related to COVID-19 since March 9, he said. Next, he noted that about 20% of those infected in Colorado have needed to be hospitalized.
That would mean there are and have been about 135 cases of COVID-19 in Pitkin County since early March, Spickert said.
But hold on — not so fast.
International COVID-19 data suggests the hospitalization rate is far lower, and possibly as low as 4%, he said. That would mean the county has or has seen 675 cases of the virus.
Finally, Spickert pointed to two recent controversial California studies — one from Santa Clara in the north and the other from Los Angeles in the south — that suggest the overall population exposure rate is around 2.8%. In that case, Pitkin County has or has seen around 504 cases.
In Colorado, the largest number of cases have hit those between the ages of 50 and 59, with those ages 50 and older far more likely to be hospitalized and die from the coronavirus, according to a statistics Spickert provided. With 41% of Pitkin County’s population more than 50 years old, public health officials’ conservative approach is merited, he said.
Dr. Kimberly Levin, Pitkin County’s medical officer and an emergency room physician at Aspen Valley Hospital, agreed with Spickert.
“We have a very low rate (of infection),” she said. “We need to open up carefully and slowly.”
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.