Virus increases in region as Pitkin County testing sites come into focus |

Virus increases in region as Pitkin County testing sites come into focus

Pitkin County's status on the state's corona-dial as of Nov. 5, 2020. More information is available at
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

For Pitkin County and COVID-19, Thursday brought good news and bad news.

The COVID-19 incidence rate in the county constituted the bad news and, specifically, the fact that it has remained above the current threshold for three days. If it remains high for two weeks, the state will place further capacity restrictions on restaurants, events and local businesses.

“We expect to hear from (the state health department) that we will have to submit mitigation plans,” said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock, noting that Summit County was set to move to more restrictive conditions Thursday.

The good news, however, was about testing, and the county’s efforts to establish three free testing sites in Aspen, Snowmass Village and one that opened Wednesday in Basalt that won’t require a doctor’s prescription, he told commissioners Thursday. That effort will be funded by the state — with federal money — through the end of the year, though plans are in the works to continue the testing in 2021 with the funding assistance of a local philanthropic group.

“This partnership will solve (testing) barriers and increase capacity and keep our community open,” said Dave Ressler, Aspen Valley Hospital CEO. “That’s what this is all about.”

The main concern Thursday, though, was the incidence rate, which measures the rate of infection based on Pitkin County’s census population of just under 18,000. In order to remain under the current Level 2 restrictions on social life and business, that rate must remain under 175 per 100,000 residents.

The incidence rate also is one of three metrics — hospitalizations and positivity rate are the two others — the state health department monitors on a county-by-county basis as part of its colored COVID Dial ranking of restriction levels. If any one of the three exceeds thresholds for three days, the state comes calling.

Pitkin County’s incidence rate was 185 on Tuesday, 202 on Wednesday and 185 again Thursday, according to county public health data.

“It’s really, really important we start to get hold of what’s happening with the incidence rate in our community,” Peacock said Thursday. “We’re seeing trends in the communities around us and with which we share population that are very, very concerning.”

The state moved Summit and Mesa counties to the Level 3 orange restrictions on the Covid Dial, while Eagle County also is now under the state’s microscope. Level 3 restrictions reduce capacity at restaurants and places of worship to 25%, close gyms and limit events.

Peacock urged Pitkin County residents to “double down” on containment measures, including avoiding informal gatherings, wearing a facemask, practicing social distancing, washing hands frequently and getting tested if COVID-19 symptoms occur.

Aspen Valley Hospital will continue to administer free COVID-19 tests with doctor prescriptions, Ressler said, because it’s important to keep doctors in the loop especially when symptoms occur.

But having to obtain a doctor’s prescription for a test was a barrier for some community residents and that needed to change, he said.

So, Aspen Valley Hospital opened a free testing site Wednesday at its Aspen Valley Primary Care facility in Basalt and the site doesn’t require a prescription, Ressler said. Those who need a test and don’t have or can’t afford a doctor can sign up on AVH’s website to take a test in Basalt. The signup link is on AVH’s homepage,

The tests currently are provided Wednesday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon. All 10 spots Wednesday and Thursday were taken, he said.

The Basalt effort will be expanded to five days a week and 20 spots per day in the next week or two, however, because Pitkin County has been able to secure more coronavirus tests from the state than initially thought, Ressler said.

The county first received only 1,000 curative tests — a self-administered nasal swab done in the presence of a medical professional — from the state for the testing effort. However, the state has loosened requirements on obtaining the tests, which are paid for by federal CARES Act funds, so the county asked for and received 1,000 more, Peacock said.

Pitkin County has requested 6,000 more tests from the state, though all must be used by Dec. 30 when CARES Act funding runs out, he said. Those tests will be used in Basalt, but also at tests sites to be established behind City Hall in Aspen and in Snowmass Village.

Details about those sites will be forthcoming. Peacock said Wednesday that county officials were working with the state to secure a kiosk or trailer for the City Hall site that will test seven days a week, and won’t require a doctor prescription. The Snowmass Village site will run only during the high season.

The county is working on a contract with Colorado Covid Check, a Denver-based nonprofit, to run the Aspen and Snowmass sites, Peacock said. AVH staff in Basalt will continue to operate that site through the end of December, though the plan is for CCC to operate a Basalt testing site in another location starting in 2021, Ressler said.

Those 8,000 tests will be used specifically for people without doctors and with mild virus symptoms, Peacock said. Results should be available in about 48 hours.

Once those state-funded tests run out Dec. 30, the county faces a new problem.

“Then it goes to $125 a test,” Peacock said.

But Ressler said the hospital and county are working with the 2020 Rescue Fund — started by a group of Aspen locals who wanted to help fellow residents impacted by the virus — to fund the testing effort in 2021. The group, whose funds are administered by the Aspen Community Foundation, already has supported testing in the community, he said.

Peacock told county commissioners Thursday that he would give them more information about the partnership during their regular weekly work session Tuesday.

Finally, Pitkin County’s Medical Officer, Dr. Kim Levin, helped open an asymptomatic COVID-19 testing site at Clark’s Pharmacy in Aspen, according to a Thursday news release. The site, which is not free, is based on national models pharmacies are beginning to operate.

“Working with our local government and health officials, Clark’s Market is excited to be the first local business to offer asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to the community without needing a doctor’s referral,” Tom Clark, Clark’s Market president, said in the release.

The county’s new testing strategy was developed through a partnership between AVH, Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, the town of Snowmass Village, Aspen Skiing Co., Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, Aspen School District, Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College.

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