Officials: Omicron wave in Pitkin County has crested
Latest data suggests county is ‘heading in right direction,’ public health director says
With case counts dropping and the tension on the local hospital easing, Pitkin County’s COVID-19 omicron wave appears to be ebbing, officials said this week.
The surge of the highly contagious omicron variant in Aspen and the surrounding area began Dec. 19 and looks to have peaked in the period between about Dec. 29 and Jan. 8, according to online Pitkin County COVID-19 dashboard data.
“From the data we’re seeing, we’re now very hopeful we have peaked, and we’re starting to see the numbers come back down,” Pitkin County Public Health Director Jordana Sabella said Wednesday. “(The data) is heading in the right direction, but we’re not out of the woods yet.”
That’s because while local case numbers and the incidence rate of COVID-19 have dropped in the past 10 days or so, transmission rates remain extremely high and could spike again with X Games and Gay Ski Week this week, she said.
“We’re waiting to see what happens,” Sabella said.
The county hit 646 cases of COVID-19 among just Pitkin County residents in the seven-day period between Jan. 1 and Jan. 8. The incidence rate per 100,000 people reached 3,722 that day, according to online data that covers the 12 days prior to Monday.
That was one of the highest incidence rates in the country at the time, Pitkin County’s epidemiologist said Jan. 3.
An online graph charting the daily case counts in Pitkin County — which stretches back nearly a year — shows the daily count peaked Dec. 29, when 150 new cases of the virus were documented here that day alone. The county logged 143 new COVID-19 cases Jan. 4 and 112 Jan. 11, according to the data.
The seven-day incidence rate peaked at 3,860 on Jan. 4, according to a chart showing the local incidence rate over the last nearly year-long period.
As of Monday — the latest day for which data was available online — Pitkin County’s incidence rate was down to 1,412 per 100,000 people, which was still more than 10 times the rate the Centers for Disease Control considers “high.”
The county’s seven-day COVID-19 case count as of Monday was 245s and has fallen regularly since Jan. 8, according to the data.
The falling case counts prompted Aspen Valley Hospital officials to downgrade the current situation at the facility when it comes to average daily visits by COVID-19 patients from red (or “concerning”) to yellow (“cautious”) effective Thursday.
The hospital and outlying clinics in the Roaring Fork Valley “have all seen a notable decrease (in COVID-19 patient visits) from the spike a couple weeks ago,” AVH CEO Dave Ressler said Thursday. “(Two weeks ago), it was just a huge number of people falling ill every day.”
Two people with COVID-19 were in the hospital’s ICU as of Thursday, though it was because they needed to be in isolation and not because they required the high level of care available in intensive care, he said.
The hospital remained Thursday in the red category of essential health care workers out with COVID-19, though the numbers were also down from the peak, Ressler said. Between 15 and 20 health care workers (or 3%-4% of the workforce) were out with COVID-19 as of Thursday.
“We peaked a couple weeks ago at 50 or more (health care workers out with COVID), or 10% of our workforce,” Ressler said.
And while he also said he thinks the omicron wave has crested in Pitkin County, he warned that the same might not be true of the places where many visitors to Aspen and the surrounding area live.
“We need to keep our guard up,” Ressler said.
Sabella said the county public health department is not currently being notified promptly by state public health department officials of all the positive cases in the county. In other words, people who test positive are being notified days before local public health officials know about them and can begin contact tracing efforts.
She asked that anyone who finds out they’re positive for COVID-19 observe the current CDC guidelines to isolate for five days, then wear a mask for five days because the virus remains contagious.