Latest Eagle County COVID-19 update continues a positive trend

Heavy smoke from Grizzly Creek Fire is complicating pandemic precautions

This week's Eagle County COVID-19 risk meter shows the county is squarely in the yellow, or cautious, area. Disease spread remains moderate.
Courtesy Eagle County

In the midst of fire reports and air quality warnings, this week there is actually some more encouraging disaster news in Eagle County.

COVID-19 trends are moving in a positive direction.

Eagle County is now solidly in the yellow, or “cautious” stage of its COVID-19 risk level meter. Becky Larson, the county’s disease prevention and control manager, delivered the latest COVID-19 report to the county commissioners Tuesday morning.

“We are moving in the right direction and it feels great,” said Larson. “However, we can’t let our guard down. We know from this summer that if we let our guard down, the disease numbers will creep back up.”

According to the county’s latest key performance indicators report, there have only been 56 cases reported over the past 14 days. That is a more than 50% decrease for the past two weeks. There has been only one COVID-19 patient hospitalized at Vail Health over the past two weeks.

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Larson said that Eagle County continues to robustly test for COVID-19 with more than 1,000 tests administered during the past 14 days. During the last two weeks, 5% of those tests came back positive. And, as the county’s report states, test turnaround times have stabilized with most results reported in less than four days.

Larson noted that 54% percent of newly reported cases could identify a close contact where they contracted the disease. “We want that number to continue to increase,” she said.

“We still have some workplace clusters and household spread,” Larson continued. “It’s really tough to prevent the spread of disease within your family.”

For that reason, she emphasized it is very important to abide by the five commitments of containment to avoid bringing COVID-19 home.

Overall, the commissioners applauded the community’s recent COVID-19 prevention efforts, noting the numbers are back to where they were in mid-April.

“We can influence the COVID-19 meter as a community. This is a really good indicator of that,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney.

Back to school

Larson noted that we are now less than one week from the start of the 2020-21 academic year for local public schools.

“Our No. 1 priority is school opening,” she said. “We have not lived in this pandemic with kids in school. To be quite honest, we don’t know what to expect.”

That said, she noted that the success of the school year depends on everyone in the community working to slow the spread of COVID-19 locally.

“Doing your part to lower transmission in our community will support our students,” Larson said. “We can support students in being able to go back to school and create as healthy an environment as we can.”

Fire and COVID-19

While the news on the local pandemic front is encouraging, the environment around the Grizzly Creek Fire is complicating the COVID-19 battle.

Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron dovetailed a fire report with Larson’s COVID-19 presentation, noting the fire has grown to nearly 28,000 acres and will continue to impact local residents for the foreseeable future. Air quality is a particular challenge, he said.

Barron stressed the general rule of thumb for gauging whether the smoke presents a hazard. If visibility is reduced to five miles or less, smoke is thick enough to be a health hazard and it’s time to remain indoors.

“We recognize that this is competing with our efforts on disease control,” Barron said, noting that for months COVID-19 precautions dictated that it was safer to be around people outdoors than indoors.

What’s more, symptoms of COVID-19 can mimic smoke exposure. Barron urged county residents to take extra care to pay attention to their overall health as the Grizzly Creek Fire continues to burn.

“We just want people to be very aware that the air quality in Eagle County will be a concern for quite a while,” Barron concluded.

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