Eagle County’s COVID-19 cases have doubled in the past two weeks
Local incidence rate, mirroring trend across Colorado, is now in the stay-at-home level
As of Tuesday, the state of Colorado’s COVID-19 risk meter still listed Eagle County in the yellow/concerned phase.
It won’t stay there.
During his update for the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron reported Tuesday that the county’s most recent two-week incidence rate — the number of cases per population of 100,000 — has topped 446 and is now classified in the red/stay at home level.
“Our local cases have doubled over the past two weeks,” Barron said. “We have seen increases in cases all across Colorado. Those increases are very, very wide and throughout almost every county.”
In actual numbers, during the past two weeks Eagle County has reported 268 new COVID-19 cases. With the increase in total number of cases, there has also been an increase in the level of severe disease, Barron noted.
“Hospitals across the state have reached the highest rates in the crisis,” he said. “That impacts us in a lot of ways.”
Right now, there are only two local COVID-19 hospitalizations, but Barron said the increase in cases will eventually lead to an increase in serious disease.
Barron explained that because various Front Range hospitals and Saint Mary’s in Grand Junction are experiencing full, or nearly full intensive care units, patients from more remote areas cannot be transferred.
“We can’t expect to have the ability to transfer people out of the area for a higher level of care,” Barron said.
And that’s not only true for COVID-19 treatment for also for other ailments and injuries.
“It’s just an incredible, incredibly concerning place we are at right now,” he said.
“We know why this is happening,” Barron continued. The reason for escalating COVID-19 cases is behavior — specifically social gatherings featuring members of several households who are not wearing face masks or practicing social distancing.
Right now the numbers reflect activities around the Halloween holiday and timing since the weather got colder and people began gathering in doors, Barron said. The behavior behind the disease spike presents the county with a classic two-edged sword dilemma. The good news is it’s not outside forces, beyond local control, that are spurring the spike. The bad news is the increase is being generated by actions that can’t be curtailed by increased regulation.
“Where we are seeing most of the spread is in private get-togethers. We can’t possibly hope to enforce those,” said Barron. He added that stopping the spread of COVID-19 through private, social gatherings be an even bigger challenge heading into the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.
In the meantime, Barron said local public health officials are working with state representatives to craft new orders reflecting a move to the orange risk level.
“If possible, we don’t want to close down place where we are not seeing disease spread,” he said. What’s more, Barron noted there are limitations to what county or state restrictions can accomplish.
In particular, Barron said the county’s younger residents need to pick up their vigilance. In Eagle County, one-third of the reported cases have been people who are between the ages of 20 and 50. One half of the cases are people younger than 60. “We are not just talking about people over age 80,” he stressed.
Take it seriously
“This trend that we are seeing, as much as it feels like there is momentum in a direction and it can’t be stopped … the truth is we can change this,” he continued. “Changes in our behavior led to this and our changes in behavior can turn it around. We can do that now, if we take is seriously.”
“My hope rests on a lot of thing the community can control,” Barron said.
Waiting out the disease and getting to the oft-cited state of herd immunity isn’t an effective COVID-19 strategy, noted Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr. Barron agreed, noting there have been re-infection cases in the county.
“A strategy of waiting for everyone to get sick is not a good strategy,” Barron said.
Scherr noted it’s helpful to think of Vail Heath as part of a medical ecosystem. Part of the system’s function includes sending people out of the community, if needed, for advanced treatment. But that can’t happen when other parts of the system are overwhelmed, and that means Eagle County will suffer.
“This rising tide of COVID everywhere is going to hit us,” Scherr said.
Noting that contact tracing — reaching out to people who have been exposed to a known COVID-19 case — has been a challenge, Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney urged local resident to sign up to a service at a Colorado Public Health and Environment service at addyourphone.com. More timely exposure notification is available through the service, McQueeney said, noting the service keeps the identity of the person who tested positive for COVID-19 anonymous.
The commissioners joined Barron in an appeal to county residents to change their behaviors.
“Right now you can change you plans,” said Commissioner McQueeney. “It’s going to take a change of behavior and you can change your behavior now.”
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