State to Pitkin County: ’Orange-plus’ might not last long; Red level looms

CDPHE official: ’I imagine I will be here in eight days and say I will have to move (Pitkin County) to level Red’

Pitkin County’s official incidence rate.

While Aspen’s business community put a lot of work into coming up with Thursday’s “Orange-plus” restrictions, it might all be for naught in eight days.

That’s according to a top official with the Colorado Department of Environmental Health and Environment who attended a portion of Thursday’s three-hour virtual meeting of the Pitkin County Board of Health.

“I imagine I will be here in eight days and say I will have to move (Pitkin County) to level Red,” said Mara Brosy-Wiwchar, CDPHE chief of staff. “The incidence curve does show that you will probably need more drastic measures (than Orange level restrictions).”

Pitkin County’s incidence rate or curve — which is based a population of 100,000 — has been in the Red level metrics for the past six days, she said. If it remains there for another eight days, which looks entirely possible, the state will move the county to Red, she said.

Local data, by the way, indicates Pitkin County has been in the Red since Nov. 10, when the rate when from 360 to 557 Wednesday. Anything above 350 indicates a county’s incidence rate is in the red.

Brosy-Wiwchar pointed out that Pitkin’s incidence rate was in the lower orange level in early November.

“Now it’s in the higher echelons of Red,” she said. “That’s an exponential rate of growth.”

The state classifies each county on its color-coded COVID-19 Dial according to incidence rate, positivity rate and the number of hospitalizations. Any county that remains in the Red level on any one or more of those metrics for 14 consecutive days is moved to that level, she said.

As of Thursday, Pitkin County had no one in the hospital for COVID-19 and has not transferred many cases to other hospitals during the course of pandemic, said Dr. Cat Bernard, chief of the medical staff at Aspen Valley Hospital. In addition, the county’s two-week positivity rate, according to the state, stood at 3.9%. Both of those are in the lowest, or Green, level on the COVID Dial.

(Locally gathered data pegs the positivity rate at 7.6% over the past two weeks, while Dr. Kim Levin, the county’s medical officer and another AVH physician, said Thursday the rate is more like 10% when visitors are included. Local data can lag behind state data.)

Jimmy Yeager, owner of Jimmy’s restaurant in Aspen, pointed out to Brosy-Wiwchar that Pitkin County’s two other official state metrics were very low. He asked whether the state would take that into account before moving the county to the Red level.

Brosy-Wiwchar said that if the incidence rate remains high but the other two metrics remain low, “it opens up a different conversation” that state public health officials would be willing to have, especially if the hospitalization rate remains “comfortable.”

If the hospital “gets stressed,” the state will almost certainly move the county to Red, she said.

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