Eagle County reports COVID-19 trends are moving in the right direction
But too many local people still refuse to isolate when they test positive
Eagle County Schools stole the thunder of this week’s COVID-19 update, announcing Monday that with Eagle County’s risk assessment moving from red to yellow, students would report in person for classes on Aug. 25 in a hybrid schedule.
“We have some positive news today, but it comes with a huge asterisk attached,” said Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron in his weekly update delivered to the county commissioners Tuesday morning. He noted that the county’s risk meter has moved from the “concerned” level to the “cautious” level based on the overall COVID-19 scenario in the county.
“But we are not back to that low level of disease we saw in late May, early June,” he said.
The county’s COVID-19 risk meter assessment has drawn widespread attention ever since Eagle County Schools announced that one of its criteria for bringing kids back to classrooms would be getting to the “cautious” stage. The risk meter needle moved to that stage this week, albeit just barely.
Even as he spoke about the meter movement, Barron stressed the graphic was intended as a communication tool to let people know the county’s overall COVID-19 status.
“That meter is not intended to tell people what policy decisions to make,” Barron noted. “There is always a lot more in play than it is yellow or is it red.”
“I think the good news is people are paying attention,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “It is one tool that people can use.”
Chandler-Henry asked Barron about the data that drives a risk meter decision, as well as the timing for the meter updates. Barron responded there are several factors that determine where the risk meter needle falls. County officials have said that the needle on the graphic moves based on five indicators: local disease spread trends; the number of new cases; percent of tests that come back positive; hospital admissions, medical visits and severe disease; and state and national trends that impact Eagle County.
Typically the meter is updated Sunday night or Monday morning and re-evaluated shortly before Barron’s county commissioner update. He noted the timing was slightly different this week because staff members who help with the data analysis were out of the office.
Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney added that many people are closely following the COVID-19 data on http://www.ecemergency.org and have noted that the number of cases often changes.
“We don’t change them to influence the data in some way. We change them because the data changes,” McQueeney said.
Barron said this week’s COVID-19 dashboard shows there have been 118 new COVID-19 cases in the county over the past two weeks. This indicator remains in the red stage, but it is on a downward trend. That’s consistent with statewide data and consistent with what Eagle County has seen since COVID-19 first hit the area — the local trends are a week to two weeks ahead of the state as a whole.
“We are still seeing outbreaks, though, and we are seeing outbreaks in business and facilities that cause a big disruption in our community,” Barron noted. “We are still higher than a sustainable level.”
But the cases of severe COVID-19 — people so sick that they require hospitalization — has remained low locally. Over the past 14 days, only three COVID-19 cases have been hospitalized at Vail Health Hospital.
The other big gain locally is the lower percentage of tests that come back positive for COVID-19. There have been more than 1,000 tests performed during the past 14 days and 10% came back positive. That number hovered around 20% earlier this summer. Turnaround time for testing has vastly improved over the past couple of weeks, Barron added. Results are now routinely available in one to three days, as opposed to 10 to 14 days as they were in early and mid-July.
“That’s an incredible increase in the state and national testing capacity,” Barron noted.
The county’s contact tracing efforts are also showing improvement, Barron said. In the past 14 days: 49% of newly reported cases were close contacts of a known case. This is an incremental increase from the previous 14-day report of 38%, indicating a slight improvement in stopping the chains of transmission. Only 2% of newly reported cases were exposed outside of Eagle County.
What’s troubling though, are people who refuse to comply with the five commitments of containment and with isolation orders when they are diagnosed with COVID-19, Barron said.
“There are still people out there in the community who test positive and do not quarantine or do not isolate and then go out and spread the disease to their friends, to their coworkers,” he said. “There are people who test positive and do not want to work with public health and talk about who they have spent time with, which means the people who they have exposed to the disease continue to go out there and expose all of you and your families and your co-workers to disease and keep us at that high level.”