Pandemic to endemic: Pitkin County’s COVID rates dropping as ‘new normal’ sets in |

Pandemic to endemic: Pitkin County’s COVID rates dropping as ‘new normal’ sets in

With the local COVID-19 incidence rate dropping to levels not seen since last summer, Pitkin County’s public health director is beginning to breathe easier.

“I’m in a mood where I think our whole team can take a deep breath and look at the other pieces of the job we get to do,” Jordana Sabella said Friday. “As we’re making the transition, I really want to thank the community for all they have done to make it through the last two years with one of the lowest death rates in the country.”

A total of six Pitkin County residents have died from COVID-19 out of a total of 5,647 cases since March 1, 2020, according to the county’s online dashboard.

The county has logged just 17 new case of the virus among residents in the past week, with zero out-of-county cases during the same period. That’s the lowest number since early December. In addition, the incidence rate dropped below 100 to 96 per 100,000 people for the first time since mid-July, according to the dashboard.

In words echoed by Gov. Jared Polis during a news conference Friday, Sabella said the conversation around COVID-19 is beginning to move toward how to live with the virus “and getting back to what the new normal looks like.”

That includes moving the emergency response to the virus — like mass testing sites and mass vaccination clinics — into the existing health care system and treating it like other communicable diseases tracked by public health, she said.

“It just becomes part of the normal work we do,” Sabella said. “Just like flu response (when) some years it’s more virulent than others and needs a different response.”

If another COVID-19 variant surfaces, public health officials know how to mitigate it and what processes need to be set up depending on its severity. The key to the equation is protecting hospital capacity, which is currently comfortable at Aspen Valley Hospital, she said.

AVH had no COVID-19 patients admitted as of Friday, the hospital’s staff was generally healthy and the facility’s ability to transfer the sickest patients to other hospitals was normal, said hospital CEO Dave Ressler.

Still, Sabella said she doesn’t think Pitkin County is quite back to normal.

“We’re working back towards that but we’re not there yet,” she said.

The upcoming spring break crowds could bump up local numbers as was the case last year, though state public health officials now estimate that 90% of Colorado residents are immune to omicron. That could tamp down the numbers this year, though Sabella said it’s too early to tell and that local public health officials will continue to monitor the data.

“At this point we’re just waiting to see,” she said.

On Friday, Polis outlined a strategy focusing on hospital readiness standards, surge planning and normalizing care for COVID-19 patients while investing in stabilizing the state’s health care workforce and “engaging the federal government in national endemic response.”

“As the pandemic phase of this response recedes into a more endemic response, the state will continue to operate in a state of readiness, keeping emergency response and public health systems prepared to respond and surge when needed,” according to a news release from Polis’ office Friday.

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