New wave of COVID cases in Eagle County marked by mild illness
The county recently saw its first hospitalizations in months from the virus
As Colorado reports a jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases, Eagle County rides its own wave — one that local health experts say is marked by mild illness.
The average percentage of the county’s COVID-19 tests that have returned positive results reached 13.9% as of Monday morning, putting us in the red zone of the county’s data monitoring system.
“We should all assume that every six months to a year, we’re going to get COVID, and we should plan for that,” said Chris Lindley, chief population health officer for Vail Health, in an interview Monday. “Go into that with all your body armor, being as healthy as you can.”
That being said, Lindley added that: “We’re peaking at this current wave, and it’s definitely impacting the community at a lower level.”
At the state level, Colorado experienced a 38% increase in hospitalizations last week. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 jumped to 225 people on Tuesday, May 31 – up from 163 a week prior, as reported by the Denver Post.
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Eagle County’s incidence rate — the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents — has risen to 131 cases, according to data collected by Eagle County Public Health. This is more than double the rate reported during the extended lull in new cases the county saw for most of the spring. At the end of March, the county reported just 54 cases per 100,000 people.
While this is a significant uptick in new cases, this latest wave has not been marked by an increase in severe illness or hospitalizations due to COVID-19. The county is still reporting 12 days of stable or declining hospitalization rates.
Recently, two people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 — the only hospitalizations due to COVID-19 the county has reported in the last two months, Lindley said.
As the valley enters another high season for tourism, Lindley said we may see a few more hospitalizations but that, overall, he is not worried about the impact visitors may have on community spread.
“I’m not worried that we’re heading into summer with higher numbers, say, than what we had entering into last summer,” Eagle County Public Health Director Heath Harmon said Monday. “We have higher vaccination rates and, for better or for worse, the omicron wave that we had in December and January exposed a lot of individuals … which will offer some level of immunity.”
The local test positivity rate being temporarily in Eagle County Public Health’s “red zone” does not mean the department is planning on implementing any new public health orders at this time, Harmon said.
Some of this steep increase in the county’s positivity rate could be due to the fact that more people are opting to take readily available at-home tests rather than going to the county’s testing sites where such data is collected, making the surveyed group smaller, Harmon said.
Lindley also acknowledged this change in how people are testing themselves for COVID-19, noting that it has become increasingly helpful to gauge community spread based on the rate of infection among Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical employees as they are always tested in-house if exposed.
As of Monday, the health system reported that 30 employees are out sick with COVID-19, up from about 20 last week, Lindley said.
At the peak of the county’s biggest wave of COVID-19 infections back in December, the health system had as many as 80 employees out sick with the virus at one time. This, among other things, put a significant strain on resources, Lindley said then.
Sub-variants of the omicron variant of COVID-19 have continued to make their way into the valley but have caused few infections since the December wave. There are a few of these sub-variants that Eagle County public health experts are keeping their eyes on, but the broader public does not have to feel a pressure to commit them all to memory, Lindley said.
“If you’re not hearing from us, that’s good news and we’re not worried nor should the community be worried,” he said.
At this time, it is important for residents to be aware that cases are higher than normal so that they continue getting tested for COVID-19 — at one of the county’s remaining testing sites or using an at-home test — if they have any symptoms or believe they may have been exposed, the two public health experts said.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should be sure to quarantine at home for at least the first five days after the start of symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, according to Eagle County Public Health’s exposure guidelines which were updated in December based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you are no longer experiencing symptoms after five days, the guidance permits residents to leave the house but asks that they wear face coverings while in public areas for an additional five days.
“Stay at home, limit your exposure,” Lindley said. “Be a good human when you’re sick.”
For those who may be more susceptible to severe illness with a COVID-19 infection, now is the time that they might consider returning to wearing a mask inside until this latest increase in cases subsides, Harmon said.
With summer in full bloom in the Eagle Valley, it is easier than ever to get outside and get active — two things that can be used as powerful tools to prevent a COVID-19 infection, Lindley said.
“Get outside, get some sunlight,” he said. “Vitamin D is fantastic for your health. Exercise is excellent for your health, fresh air — all these things are not only good for your physical health, they’re excellent for your mental health as well.”
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