Rapid testing helps contain COVID outbreak at Sundeck and Aspen Mountain Club, officials say
17 positive cases confirmed among 72 employees tested
“Targeted and universal testing” helped to identify and contain a COVID-19 outbreak linked to the Sundeck and Aspen Mountain Club last week, according to a report from Josh Vance, an epidemiologist who works with Pitkin County’s COVID-19 response team.
As of Sunday morning, 17 positive cases were confirmed among 72 employees who were tested for COVID-19.
Pitkin County Public Health initiated widespread testing at the two eateries managed by The Little Nell, which is part of Aspen Skiing Co., as a proactive measure last week after two employees independently sought testing and confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the two weeks prior, according to a news release from The Little Nell on Sunday evening.
The county identified the additional 15 cases through the “targeted and universal” testing strategy: public health officials targeted departments where they believed transmission had occurred and tested everyone in those departments. All 15 of those positive cases were asymptomatic and are now quarantining, according to the release.
“We are thankful that Pitkin County Public Health and Aspen Valley Hospital have the resources to complete larger group testing, which were previously unavailable, as a means to further fight the spread of the virus,” the release stated. “Because of this move, we are safer today than we were yesterday.”
The Sundeck and Aspen Mountain Club do not plan to close or change current COVID-19 protocols at this time; rather, management will focus on reinforcing protocols that abide by the five commitments of containment: social distancing, frequent hand washing, wearing masks, staying home when sick and seeking testing when individuals experience symptoms.
“We feel confident in our operations and safety guidelines that are being enforced and are working with the health authorities to assure as safe an environment as possible for all our guests and employees,” the release stated.
The rapid response to the outbreak helped the county to quickly identify known cases of COVID-19 related to the outbreak and reduce the likelihood of community spread (cases with unknown exposure), according to Vance’s report.
“They were able to get testing targeted really quickly,” said Tracy Trulove, a spokesperson for Pitkin County Public Health. Trulove gave kudos to the public health department and businesses for their swift effort to contain the outbreak.
“It’s just going to show how the ‘box it in’ strategy works when people are participating in it,” Trulove said.
Anyone who visited the Sundeck or Aspen Mountain Club should get tested if they experience symptoms of COVID-19, Trulove said. That, too, helps contain COVID-19 and reduce the risk of spreading it to other members of the community as part of a strategy to “box in“ cases through contact tracing, testing, isolating cases and quarantining known contacts of those who test positive.
The quick testing and containment of the outbreak is reflective of a larger trend in Pitkin County, Trulove said. According to Vance’s report, the percentage of cases with unknown exposure is down to 25% — a low the county has not achieved since September.
That’s a good sign when it comes to decreasing the risk of community transmission: Fewer cases with unknown exposure indicates that the incidence rate (calculated as a per-capita rate of cases per 100,000 people) is much closer to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the county (i.e. how many people actually have the virus).
“Other counties have higher rates of community spread meaning cases are not being identified,” Vance wrote. “This is a reflection of increased testing in the county which enables those with symptoms to be tested more quickly, proper communication on when to be tested from our communications team, and increased push by the contact tracing team to get those exposed tested.”
Testing is free and accessible at locations throughout Pitkin County; find the nearest testing center at covid19.pitkincounty.com/get-tested.
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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.