Eagle County’s COVID-19 case increase ‘completely expected’
Eagle County health director says personal responsibility is essential to keep the valley's economy open
- The spread of COVID-19 is mostly likely when in close contact with an infected person for 15 minutes or so. Walk-pasts are safe.
- When 6 feet of distance can’t be maintained for 15 minutes or more, a face covering is required.
- When 6 feet of distance can’t be maintained for periods of 15 minutes or more, wear a mask.
- Distance is better than masks.
- Wear a mask in public places including stores, indoor theaters, libraries or government buildings.
- Masks protect others, not yourself.
Heath Harmon shares your frustration about mixed messages regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a Tuesday presentation to the Vail Town Council, Harmon, Eagle County’s public health director, noted that the general public has “probably heard 14 different messages” about how to stay healthy or not infect others. Those messages also vary from state to state, he said.
Harmon told the council that public health officials throughout the state are working on ways to more consistently communicate the current best advice about the pandemic.
Councilmember Jen Mason said there’s confusing messaging locally, particularly when and where to wear masks.
“We need it to be as simple as possible,” Harmon said, adding that officials need to clarify when and where face coverings are necessary.
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The medical community understands more about the virus than in the early days of the pandemic, Harmon said. But, he added, the nation is still struggling with the disease.
After successfully slowing the spread of the virus, Harmon said Eagle County in the past few weeks has seen an increase in cases. That increase was “completely expected,” Harmon said. And, despite the rise in cases, Vail Health hospital as of Thursday had no patients with the virus.
As the valley’s economy has begun reopening, and warmer weather brings more outdoor gatherings, an increase in cases was perhaps inevitable.
And, Harmon added, those gatherings are fine. “But we want them to happen in a respectful manner,” he said.
While mask-wearing is recommended, “distance is by far the most protective measure,” Harmon said.
Public health and community officials are stressing the “Five Commitments of Containment,” which include maintaining distance, frequent hand-washing, wearing face coverings in public, staying home when sick and immediate testing if someone shows symptoms.
“I don’t know there’s other things we can do from a policy side,” Harmon said, adding that the county’s ability to reopen is “resting on the shoulders of residents and visitors.”
The nationwide increase in cases has also led to new delays in getting test results. Harmon said the turnaround on test results now ranges from five to eight days.
That needs to change, Harmon said, adding that the county is looking to build more capacity, particularly in supplies and the speed of test results. Contact tracing needs to improve but is getting better.
Harmon said 59% of the new cases in the past two weeks had already been identified through contact tracing. Many of those people were already self-isolating.
What about winter?
Councilmember Brian Stockmar complimented Harmon and other public health officials for the job they’ve done with educating the local population. But moving into the fall and winter, Stockmar said he’s concerned about people coming into the valley from destinations that are currently seeing increases in COVID-19 cases. A sharp rise could lead to another shutdown of the local economy, he said.
“I share those concerns,” Harmon said, adding that local lodges and other companies are starting to reach out to guests before they arrive. And, he added, Vail Resorts has put a lot of money and effort in mitigation efforts throughout the company.
Harmon said there’s now specific language for visitors about not coming if they’ve shown symptoms 14 days or less before traveling. Also, the information sent to guests notes that if someone gets sick here, that person will have to stay here for two weeks, at his or her own expense.
Stockmar said until there’s a cure or a vaccine, personal responsibility will be critical to the valley’s economic health.
“It starts with education,” Harmon said, adding “Let’s at least respect one another.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.