Pitkin County hits all-time high for daily COVID-19 cases; officials investigating death
More than a quarter of all county COVID-19 infections were recorded in the past two weeks
Pitkin County officials are investigating a third death possibly related to COVID-19 amid record-high case numbers and an incidence rate that is nearly quadruple the stay-at-home threshold, according to a daily epidemiology report issued Sunday by Pitkin County Public Health.
The county Coroner’s Office will oversee the investigation that began Saturday, according to Deputy County Manager Phylis Mattice. The deceased, a man in his 80s, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November, Mattice said Sunday.
It’s unclear yet whether the coronavirus was the primary cause of death, according to Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers. The man was in hospice care suffering from a terminal illness; COVID-19 could be a “contributing factor,” but it’s unlikely that the virus was the sole cause of the death, Ayers said Sunday.
Even so, the report of a possible COVID-related fatality comes amid ever-increasing COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County; if attributed to the coronavirus, the death currently under investigation would be the first COVID-related fatality in Pitkin County in eight months, after two confirmed deaths caused by the virus in March.
More than a quarter of all Pitkin County COVID-19 infections since March were reported in the past two weeks, bolstered by a record-high 41 positive tests for the virus reported Dec. 17, according to data from the Pitkin County Public Health. (That statistic represents the date test results were available, not the date that the tests were conducted.)
Statewide COVID modeling suggests that Colorado’s infections are decreasing in most regions, including the Central Mountains district that includes Pitkin County. But data from Pitkin County Public Health indicate that numbers are still trudging upward as the area approaches the peak holiday season.
The weekend’s COVID-19 cases pushed the county past the 800-case mark for infections; Pitkin County data report a total of 829 cases since March, 242 of which (approximately 29% of the total number of cases) were recorded between Dec. 6 and Dec. 20.
The county’s cumulative 14-day incidence rate (calculated as the total number of cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks) continues to trudge upward, as well: as of Dec. 20, that rate is 1,362; the threshold for Red level, stay-at-home restrictions is 350 cases per 100,000 people.
Pitkin County has been able to remain in Orange-Plus level restrictions because other metrics that determine a county’s COVID restriction status — the two-week average positivity rate and the hospitalization rate — fall into lower levels of concern on the state COVID dial.
Mattice, a spokesperson for Pitkin County, emphasized that those who experience any symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested to help the county track and mitigate the spread of the virus as numbers continue to rise.
Pitkin County already requires all overnight visitors —and all residents returning to the county after 10 or more days away — to sign an affidavit affirming that they have tested negative within 72 hours of travel. But even those who haven’t traveled should get tested if they experience symptoms, Mattice said.
“If you have any symptoms at all, go get tested,” Mattice said. ”That’s the one that I know is really hard.”
Testing is free and readily available at locations throughout Pitkin County, but Mattice said she recognizes that some are apprehensive about testing out of a concern that they would need to quarantine and miss work if they test positive.
“Right now, we have a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck,” Mattice said. But there are also support systems in place to help those in quarantine, she added. Resources are available through the county department of human services and through local nonprofits.
“Everyone needs to take care of themselves and those around them,” Mattice said. “People should not take those symptoms lightly.”
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Aspen resident Don Bird, retired director of the Pitkin County Jail, is under the medical care of a Denver-area hospital after a bicycle crash Wednesday left him with facial, pelvic, shoulder and spinal injuries, and brain damage, family and friends said Friday.