Pitkin County in a “holding pattern” waiting to return to Orange-level restrictions
Declining incidence rate could meet county’s metrics for lighter restrictions by Tuesday
Orange-level COVID-19 restrictions remain just out of reach for Pitkin County as local health officials wait for the county’s incidence rate to dip below a threshold of 700 cases per 100,000 people in a 14-day period.
A rapidly declining incidence rate means the county could hit that number as soon as Monday, according to Pitkin County spokeswoman Tracy Trulove. The public health department would be prepared to enact the lighter restrictions as early as 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning if that’s the case.
But the county isn’t there quite yet: the incidence rate on Jan. 31 was 732, just shy of the mark to move from Red to Orange-level restrictions, according to Sunday’s daily epidemiology report compiled by the public health department.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” Trulove said Sunday afternoon. “We are anticipating that we’ll get to that threshold so we can get to that change on Tuesday.”
Red-level limitations went into effect in Pitkin County on Jan. 17; the Board of Health voted to enter the Red level on the state’s COVID-19 dial on Jan. 11, banning indoor dining and personal gatherings among other changes.
Though local law enforcement authorities said last month that they were prepared to issue more tickets for violations to the public health order’s restrictions on gatherings, that crackdown hasn’t seen much action, according to Aspen Police Sgt. Terry Leitch.
“To my knowledge, we have not written any citations for that,” Leitch said. Though the Aspen Police Department has received more calls reporting violations after news came of tighter enforcement, “the majority of those reports haven’t panned out.”
The decline in incidence rate occurred much faster than officials predicted. Pitkin County epidemiologist Josh Vance suggested last week that the drop-off could be due to a lack of indoor dining and fewer visitors in the area, but said there is no clear answer to the rapid change.
The public health department can’t leave Red behind until the county meets guidelines to re-enter Orange-level restrictions that the board established when they voted to enact the tighter rules.
One of those metrics is an incidence rate below 700 after 14 days of decline, so long as the two other metrics for coronavirus restrictions — positivity rate and hospitalization rate — do not also hit Red-level thresholds. The county would have to have an incidence rate above 700 for 14 consecutive days (or have any two of the three metrics hit Red level thresholds in one day) to get bumped back into Red.
The Board of Health enacted those metrics on Jan. 11 because any incidence rate above 700 cases per 100,000 people exceeds the public health department’s contact tracing capacity. Ensuring that exposed contacts get tested and quarantine through contact tracing is a key component of the county’s “box it in” strategy to virus mitigation.
As of Sunday afternoon, the county’s incidence rate of 732 indicates that roughly 1-in-137 people in Pitkin County has tested positive for COVID in the past 14 days.
That’s a stark difference from two weeks ago, the day after Red-level restrictions went into place: the incidence rate was 2,742 on Jan. 18, meaning 1 in 38 people in the county had tested positive within a 14-day period.
Pitkin County recorded 8-11 days of decreasing or stable hospitalizations according to the state’s data dashboard and a positivity rate of 5.5% according to the county’s daily epidemiology report on Sunday. Both of those metrics are within the Yellow level on the state’s coronameter.
The positivity rate is nearly half of what it was two weeks ago, meaning that among those who seek testing, fewer are actually testing positive. The decline in both metrics — positivity rate and incidence rate — in turn helps lower the rate of community transmission in the county.
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Nearly 100 locally-owned businesses negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have been awarded grants from a pool of $1.2 million in relief funds from Pitkin County.