The number of COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County has not dropped in the last two weeks, despite the fact that offseason is in full effect and most tourists have gone home.
The plateau, which includes slight increases in the local incidence rate in the past week, is perhaps a reflection of Colorado as a whole, which currently has the 11th-highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the country, said Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County public health director.
“It’s demonstrating the transmissibility of (the) delta (variant),” she said Wednesday. “We’re still staying this high with (tourism) that much lower.”
Pitkin County’s seven-day COVID-19 incidence rate per 100,000 people was 197 as of Tuesday, according to the county’s online dashboard. It was 191 on Monday, 203 on Sunday, 175 on Saturday and 203 on Friday. That followed a period between Oct. 10 and Oct. 14, when the incidence rate hovered around 160 and appeared possibly to be on the decline.
The Centers for Disease Control says that an incidence rate above 100 per 100,000 people indicates a high level of COVID-19 transmission.
The state of Colorado reported a 14-day incidence rate of 490 as of Wednesday, which compares to a 14-day rate in Pitkin County of 355 and 566 in Garfield County, according to online databases.
As of Tuesday, Pitkin County had detected 31 new COVID-19 cases among residents and an additional six cases from out of county sources, according to the dashboard. Daily case counts have hovered in that area for most of the past two weeks.
The state, meanwhile, reported 1,328 new cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the state’s online dashboard.
The one possible piece of good news is the county’s positive rate, which looks at the number of people testing positive for the virus, Sabella said. Pitkin County’s positivity rate has been above 5% for more than two weeks, which usually means public health officials probably aren’t catching all the local cases, she said.
In the past few days, however, the positivity rate has been dropping a bit into the 5% range, and was at 5.3% on Tuesday. In a call Wednesday with local public health officials, the state’s epidemiologist said that when the positivity rate begins to drop below 5%, it can be an indicator that incidence rates are about to drop as well, Sabella said.
“That’s potentially good news,” she said.
Colorado’s growing incidence rate tracks with other wintry, northern states including Alaska, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, which are all showing growing COVID-19 rates. Sabella said one theory is that cold weather is driving people inside and contributing to the higher incidence rates.
Other states like New York, California, Florida, Connecticut and Louisiana have incidence rates under 100 and are seeing decreasing rates on transmission, Sabella said.
The incidence rate in Pitkin County at this time last year was 84, which means public health officials are on guard for the upcoming winter season. Sabella declined to predict what might happen this winter.
“Where we go from here, we’ll just have to hold and see,” she said. “The incidence rate is higher (this year than last), but there’s many more vaccinated people than last year.”
Aspen Skiing Co. is expected to announce Thursday their ski season protocols for skiers and snowboarders, Sabella and a Skico spokesperson said Wednesday.
The county’s high level of vaccinations means less transmission than there would be without the vaccines, and that people who get the virus as a breakthrough case most likely won’t become seriously ill, Sabella said. She urged everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.