With infections flat, health board endorses plan

Aspen Valley Hospital’s Debra Demeulenaere takes the temperature of patient Jamie Grenney before he enters through the east entrance of the hospital on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

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Any business in Aspen and Pitkin County with questions about opening can contact local public health officials directly at and a team of seven people will see to it an answer is provided quickly. If it can’t be provided quickly, the team will research the question and get back with an answer as soon as possible.

Members of the Pitkin County Board of Health endorsed a local reopening strategy Thursday that would allow local public health authorities to keep their options open depending on local infection rates.

The vote Thursday afternoon follows the lead of Pitkin County commissioners, who voted Wednesday to request a variance from the state public health department allowing the county’s “Roadmap to Reopening” strategy to take precedence over upcoming state public health orders.

That strategy says that if five particular factors remain manageable in Pitkin County, local public health officials would implement a three-phase opening plan that began Saturday. Those factors include a two-week drop in local virus cases, smooth operations at the hospital, having a robust testing and contact tracing infrastructure in place and appropriate social-distancing protocols.

Pitkin County’s infection rate remains flat, said Charles Spickert, a contract epidemiologist working for the county.

As of yesterday, Aspen Valley Hospital has conducted 228 PCR or nasal swab COVID-19 tests since community-wide testing of any resident with virus symptoms began April 23, he said. Of those, 18 have come back positive, 179 have been negative and 31 are pending, Spickert said.

“It is suppressed in our community,” said Dr. Kimberly Levin, the county’s medical officer and a physician at AVH. “It’s been very stable over the last month.”

Two people are currently hospitalized at AVH with COVID-19, she said. Most who test positive do not require hospitalization and are sent home to isolate and recover.

In addition, just two AVH employees are out sick with COVID-19, representing less than 1% of the facility’s workforce, Levin said.

However, AVH doctors are seeing a “marked increase” in the numbers of people showing up with a doctor’s prescription for a COVID-19 test at the testing tent set up in front of the hospital, she said. Employees inside the tent administered 27 tests May 8 and 21 tests Monday, Levin said.

That is a good thing, she said. Doctors and health officials expect to see a rise in cases with the recent loosening of public health orders.

“The goal is not to see zero (cases),” she said. “We can’t stay where we are.”

The goal is to see a controlled, limited number of COVID-19 cases that are manageable for the local health care system, Levin said.

AVH can handle 16 COVID-19 tests per day and is able to increase capacity to deal with up to 32 tests per day, she said.

Pitkin County’s current public health order mostly aligns with the state’s safer-at-home order, both of which will expire May 26. County Manager Jon Peacock has indicated that phase 2 of the reopening, which will include restaurants and lodging, likely will begin May 27 unless local virus cases spike.

Many questions remain from businesses about how exactly to open and prepare to open.

Pitkin County officials have set up an email address — — where any local business with questions about opening can make contact and a team of seven people will get back quickly with an answer or will do research and find the answer, said Jordana Sabella with the public health department.

Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said that even if the state grants Pitkin County’s exemption, the county will likely try to align with the state’s order as closely as possible to prevent unnecessary confusion.

Gov. Jared Polis has said he will provide direction May 25 about the state’s next opening phase.

The AVH board, which also must sign off on any county-proposed variance, indicated support for Pitkin County’s reopening roadmap during a meeting Monday.

County staff will now work on submitting the exemption proposal to the state, which has had a five-to-10-day turnaround in addressing them from other counties, officials have said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that Aspen Valley Hospital can administer up to 16 COVID-19 tests per day with the ability to go up to 32 tests per day if necessary.

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