Pitkin County public health officials discuss latest COVID-19 data, mitigation strategies

Two friends take a stroll on Rio Grande Trail wearing masks in Aspen on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times


Pitkin County’s “Five Commitments to Containment” were established by public health officials to help contain the local COVID-19 outbreak. The commitments include:

-I will maintain 6 feet of distance from anyone not in my household

-I will wash my hands often

-I will cover my face in public

-I will stay home when I am sick

-I will seek testing immediately and self-report if I experience symptoms

For more information about the county’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies, visit

Public health officials shared a multitude of current epidemiological data and mitigation strategy updates related to the complex, interconnected and ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis during the Pitkin County Board of Health meeting Thursday.

But while they discussed a variety of topics and talked about new COVID-19-related information since the last board of health meeting, one key takeaway message was clear — it’s important Pitkin County residents and visitors continue to follow social distancing and safety guidelines, especially as fall approaches and plans for reopening schools and the upcoming winter ski season begin to take shape.

“It is the utmost timing to be cautious and really maintain our diligence with the five commitments,” said Dr. Kim Levin, the county’s medical officer and an emergency room physician at Aspen Valley Hospital.

“Community spread is up at 40% and I think it’s really important now more than ever to really, really be as diligent as possible, decrease community transmission and give a good platform for schools to be able to open.”

Josh Vance, the county’s new disease prevention and control supervisor who is transitioning into Charlie Spickert’s role as head epidemiologist, touched more on the level of community spread in Pitkin County, which refers to the percentage of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 but can’t pinpoint how or where they were exposed to the disease, as previously reported.

Vance said he believes it is likely that the high number of out-of-county residents who commute to Pitkin County for work and the county’s status as a popular tourism destination plays into this higher rate of community spread — and that this rate will likely stay relatively high for the county because of this dynamic.

He showed that since July 1, community spread has been the exposure source of 39.3% of positive COVID-19 cases. Household has been the next largest exposure source at 27%, informal gatherings at 9% and work and employment at 6.7%.

“The point to take away from this is that there are still a significant amount of individuals out there who are around people that are exposing them and they’re unaware of it,” Vance said. “So it’s that reminder to us that regardless of where we are there’s always risk; it might be low risk, it might be medium risk but there’s always risk … even in a city that’s only seen 182 cases, there’s still that risk there.”

Outside of exposure source data, Vance also touched on the closer tracking of non-resident or travel-related COVID-19 cases, referring to people who stay or plan to stay in Pitkin County for less than four weeks, and the disproportionate rate of Hispanic and Latino residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 recently — which has jumped from about 10% of total county cases in March, April and May to more than 20% in July and more than 30% so far in August.

Many of these data points and different COVID-19 spread contributor metrics will be highlighted in the county’s new “Coronameter,” which is set to go live on the Pitkin COVID-19 website Friday, health officials said.

The Coronameter aims to serve as a comprehensive, concise visual that points daily to what phase or level of COVID-19 concern and risk the county is in — comfortable/low risk (blue), cautious/moderate risk (yellow), concerned/high risk (orange) or very concerned/very high risk (red). The meter also will show how daily case rates, community spread and AVH capacity are contributing to the current phase the county is in each day.

As of Thursday, Karen Koenemann, public health director, said Pitkin County is in the higher end of the yellow phase, or cautious level.

“Honestly, I think we’re cautiously optimistic on some pieces, but when we look at our neighboring communities, it’s all relative,” Koenemann said. “Are we doing well? I think the community is doing good; we could do better.”

Koenemann, Vance and Levin were three of the seven public health officials who spoke to the board of health Thursday, each official expressing similar “cautiously optimistic” views and representing one of the county’s “teams” that contribute to different aspects of the overall local COVID-19 response and mitigation plan.

Koenemann talked about her efforts to continue to evolve and adjust the county’s COVID-19 mitigation plan while also helping create a regional response, mitigation and communication strategy for the Roaring Fork Valley; Jordana Sabella, who is heading the Community Liaison team, talked about efforts to continue to develop and communicate sector-specific COVID-19 guidance, with a recent focus on carpooling, taxis, shuttles and rideshares as they have been identified as common COVID-19 exposure points; and Bryan Daugherty, head of the Consumer and Employee Health Program team, talked about the continued drive to ensure all county businesses are in compliance with the current public health orders and respond to community complaints.

After the presentations, the board of health members discussed issues and concerns of their own and those they’ve heard from members of the community, including how child care facilities and schools will be able to reopen, and if the county should do more to screen visitors when they first arrive at local lodging facilities and the airport for COVID-19-like symptoms.

County officials said much of the guidance and direction related to these topics is still being worked out at the state, regional and local levels, but that what’s most important for the public to understand is that what individuals do to mitigate and slow the spread of COVID-19 impacts the entire county community.

“We all have a responsibility in this community, every single one of us, to maintain the Five Commitments To Containment, to do the things we’ve all been talking about for a long time because what we do on the individual and community level impacts the schools, they are one microcosm of our community,” Koenemann explained.

“It’s so complex but really the things we do every day, the decisions we make every day, can really have an impact.”

The next health board meeting is set to be held virtually in two weeks, where county officials said they plan to give a similar mitigation strategy update and to discuss anticipated recommendations and guidance issued at the state level.

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