Officials: The location of Aspen’s COVID-19 victims are not of public concern
State health officials said Thursday that they have not revealed the locations of the individuals who are in isolation due to their illnesses related to the novel coronavirus, or the places that they’ve visited while in Aspen, because it’s a moot point.
During a media briefing Thursday, Jill Ryan, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, explained that not only do officials want to protect people’s privacy, but the disease does not spread by location.
“From an epidemiological standpoint, there’s no value in revealing where these people are,” Ryan said. “It does not reduce spread at all to know where they are, as long as the orders that they’ve received, or the instructions they receive for self-isolation, are kept.”
She explained that when epidemiologists do their contact tracing, they talk to someone who’s had positive test results, and they ask that individual who their closest contacts have been.
“They don’t go so far as to say, ‘Where have you been over the last one to two weeks?’ because as you can imagine, exponentially there would just be no way for us to do that level of contact tracing, or to notify folks,” Ryan said. “The other thing is that this is a disease primarily spread through droplets from coughing and sneezing.
“It’s not airborne, and so we think there’s not a big enough bang for the buck given all of our limited resources to really figure out every place someone has been.”
She also said a person with the coronavirus has the capability to spread the disease to between two and four individuals, whereas the flu is one to three.
Late Thursday night, Pitkin County officials, along with those in Eagle and Garfield counties, issued a public health order prohibiting events with more than 50 attendees effective immediately and lasting until at least April 8.
The order does not apply to restaurants or lift lines, and schools have not been forced to close by the order, though “we are watching the outbreak closely and may determine that school closures are necessary,” said the joint statement from the counties’ three public health directors.
Thirteen Australians who visited Aspen recently with a 21-year-old fellow Australian woman who tested positive for COVID-19 when she returned home have been in self-isolation since Sunday evening.
Ten of them have tested positive for COVID-19, of which there is no vaccine yet and is now a global pandemic.
The remaining three refused testing but have been ordered to stay in self-isolation until March 18 when they will have to pass two consecutive tests certifying they are free of the virus.
A total of 18 people were traveling with the Australian woman. Five did not exhibit any symptoms and were not tested or placed in isolation.
Officials do not know the Aspen travel dates of the Australian group, some of whom are family members.
CDPHE’s standard protocol is that individuals who test positive must remain in isolation 14 days past their date of exposure.
Melinda Williams, one of the people who is in isolation, told Australian podcast host Neil Mitchell that the group was together March 2 for a cocktail party.
Officials were using that date for the 14-day isolation calendar and that they could theoretically go home next week if they are clear of the virus.
But as Williams said, once she and her husband feel well they have to pass two tests 24 hours apart to show they are clear.
She said she hopes that will be within four or five days.
Williams, 60, said she and her husband have mild cases.
“We’ve been lucky that it hasn’t hit us hard,” she told Mitchell. “It must be so contagious because most of the people in our group have had minimal contact with this person.”
Williams noted that the 21-year-old woman had spent one night in their apartment and had been here 10 days longer than them.
She also said even though she and her husband have been stuck in a hotel room, it hasn’t been that bad.
“I have to say the authorities here … we have been treated extremely well and extremely courteously,” Williams said. “For a bloody nuisance it’s been a positive experience with the treatment we’ve received.
“The worst thing is I’ve run out of chardonnay, but luckily the local Grogg Shop will deliver.”
Williams said they voluntarily self-isolated themselves when they found out their 21-year-old friend was infected.
That is precisely what Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann urges people to do when they feel sick.
All signs indicate that the virus will be transmitted within communities throughout Colorado and not from people who have traveled.
That is why it is important for people to self-contain themselves, practice good hygiene and remove themselves from large gatherings.
“We know that community spread is the next step,” Koenemann said Thursday. “I don’t think we want to forget that everybody in our community can be empowered to take their own actions and that includes all the basic things that we’ve talked about as far as hand washing … and everybody in the community has a role to play.”
Koenemann and Ryan said it’s been public officials’ role to protect the privacy of those who have the virus, reduce the stigma around it and support them.
“People who are testing positive are people that are visitors of our community, or they could be our neighbors, friends and family,” Koenemann said. “Ultimately, this is our job to protect the health of our community and to really understand that these are people that need our care, and I think that goes along with having compassion around folks that are wanting to get tested or have tested positive.”
Koenemann said the county has two epidemiological staff members who can do contact tracing locally.
“I think we’re going to really quickly get to a place with this illness as it spreads that we won’t be doing the epidemiological investigations, it’ll more be of a continued focus on prevention measures, and we’re going to be moving more into social distancing and less doing the contact tracing,” she said.
“When we just had a few cases, it was a good way to try and reduce the spread of disease, but it will at some point, probably in the near future, outweigh our ability to keep up with it.”
City Manager Sara Ott on Thursday implemented a “Declaration of Local Disaster Emergency” that went into effect immediately.
It’s a proactive measure to slow the potential spread, impacts and damage of COVID-19, and will assist the city in securing regional, state and federal resources.
The city also has closed several of its facilities and encourages residents to refrain from visiting City Hall in person unless they absolutely have to.
Mayor Torre encouraged the community to work together during a crisis that state health officials say could last through the year.
“We are all in this together,” Torre said in a statement. “We know that preventative hygiene and minimizing social gatherings will significantly reduce the impacts long term in Aspen.
“I want the community to know how much the city of Aspen cares about our resiliency and strength,” he continued. “The short-term closures have only one goal in mind: to mitigate the possible spread of this disease and to try to avoid a longer-term risk. I am asking your cooperation in proactively implementing these measures.”
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A group of relay participants will walk from downtown Aspen to Buttermilk Ski Area on Tuesday evening to complete one leg of a month-long, 3,900-mile journey across nearly 10 states for a “Carry the Load” event honoring fallen military personnel and first responders.