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Pitco Board of Health gets look at path forward with COVID-19

County shifting from pandemic to endemic response

The Pitkin County Board of Health got a look Thursday at the path forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, two years and a couple of days after the virus rolled into town and stuck around for the long haul.

The county public health department and state and federal public health officials are shifting to approach the virus as an endemic illness like the flu rather than an all-encompassing pandemic, according to Public Health Director Jordana Sabella.

“This is really about protecting hospital capacity, and normalizing COVID treatments back into the traditional health care setting,” Sabella said during the board’s monthly meeting.



A few updates to staffing, data tracking and risk monitoring reflect that shift.

Come April 1, the county’s virus response team will have six members primarily focused on COVID-19: a response manager and epidemiologist, a school and child health specialist, a data management specialist, a case surveillance specialist focused on vulnerable populations, a vaccine and testing analyst and a community engagement and communications representative, according to epidemiologist Josh Vance.




The team’s work now focuses on investigating “priority” cases rather than every single case of the virus; integrating case tracking into “more of a routine communicable disease approach;” planning for variants and surges and addressing other COVID-related health factors like mental health and long-haul COVID, Vance said.

The public health director and environmental health manager will still provide support to that response, Vance said.

In 2021, Pitkin County Public Health had 24 total employees, and 10 of them had a COVID-specific position, Sabella said in the meeting.

But in the thick of the pandemic, the entire department took an “all hands on approach” to virus response, Vance said.

Now, the department will have 20 employees, including the six focused on COVID-19, Sabella said. The department has already started to transition other staff back to their regular roles and “non-COVID-specific priorities,” Vance said.

The county also plans to roll out a new data overview early next week that will present all the relevant stats on one dashboard instead of five, according to data analyst John Anderson.

Familiar metrics on case counts, vaccinations and hospital capacity will still be available, along with a new metric on reinfection rates, according to Anderson.

Case data will now come from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rather than from Pitkin County Public Health.

Pitkin County also will look to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s new matrix to determine the low, medium or high impact of COVID on communities. The matrix is based on the number of new COVID cases in Pitkin County and on hospital data from a wider-reaching “Health Service Area” that includes several counties.

As of Thursday afternoon, Pitkin County had a positivity rate of 6.6% and had logged six COVID-19 cases in the last seven days, according to the county’s data dashboard.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com


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