Pitkin County coronavirus cases rise amid complacency; wedding party being investigated
The investigation of a more than 70-person wedding in Aspen late last month and an uptick in the number of residents testing positive for COVID-19 has kept Pitkin County Public Health investigators on their toes in recent days.
“Since mid-September we’ve seen an increase in cases,” Kurt Dahl, the county’s environmental health director, said Wednesday. “I think people have become complacent.”
That is a major concern for public health officials as the weather grows colder and holidays including Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, when people traditionally gather in groups, approach, he said.
“With Halloween, our biggest concern are the parties,” Dahl said. “It’s really a popular holiday here. We’re trying to get the word out to find alterntaives to Halloween parties.”
The county reported one new case Tuesday, though that increased the total over the past 14 days to 32 cases, according to the “Covid stats” page on the county’s Public Health website. That is approaching the number of cases reported during peaks in late July and August, according to the statistics.
“It just sounds like people are … ready to go back to normal life,” Dahl said. “And they’re not ready to follow the things we have to follow with winter coming.”
At least nine of the most recent cases were tracked back to a dinner party, while another three came from a construction company, he said. But contact tracers have not been able to pinpoint the source of other infections, which leads public health officials to believe community transmission is occurring across Pitkin County, Dahl said.
The positivity rate among residents is hovering around 5%, he said. That mirrors statewide infection rates that have risen above 5%, Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday, noting that the state reported 1,000 new daily COVID-19 cases for first time Saturday.
Meanwhile, local contact tracers are working with the state public health department to investigate a wedding of more than 70 people that occurred at a business in Aspen sometime between Sept. 23 and 28, according to Dahl and a Pitkin County Public Health news release Wednesday.
“We have learned that since leaving the county and returning home, some of these individuals have tested positive for COVID-19,” the release states.
All of those who have tested positive have done so outside of Pitkin County, Dahl said.
Pitkin County public health officials did not know about the wedding because planners and the business did not file a COVID safety plan as required under the county’s public health order for events with as many as 50 people, he said. Officials are investigating why that did not occur — the unnamed business may have been able to accommodate the party under capacity guidelines — and whether violations of the public health order occurred, Dahl said.
Local public health officials found out about the wedding from state public health officials after a resident of Larimer County tested positive and reported working at the wedding, he said. Dahl declined to name the business under investigation.
Wedding attendees were in Aspen between Sept. 23 and 28, and county public health officials have reached out to the venues where formal wedding activities occurred “to inform employers about the potential exposure and guide them on communcations to employees as well as cleaning and disinfection protocols,” according to the news release.
“Given the size of the group and the length of their visit, it is likely that some individuals visited additional establishments that have yet to be identified through contact tracing,” said Josh Vance, the county’s disease investigation and control supervisor. “Exposure outside of interactions with this group is also possible, given that community spread of COVID-19 is still occurring.”
Dahl encouraged Pitkin County residents to re-double efforts to wear facemasks, practice social distancing and steer clear of crowds. He said masks and distancing should be utilized at informal gatherings — like dinner parties — which are capped at 10 people.
“Hopefully we can get a hold of this before we get into this winter season (and) this ski season,” Dahl said. “Because that’s what we need to do.”
While new restaurants enter the Aspen scene, there are several spaces that will remain empty this winter. Meanwhile, the retail market remains extremely hot.