The danger of contracting COVID-19 in Eagle County has never been higher
Incidence rate is high and will likely get higher as Thanksgiving spread is calculated
Eagle County’s most recent COVID-19 statistics are bleak.
“The story of this week is that the risks of getting COVID-19 in our community are higher than they have ever been,” said Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron in a Tuesday interview. “We have widespread community spread.”
There have been 483 new cases reported over the past two weeks and there are currently 10 county residents hospitalized for COVID-19. However, only four of those patients are currently hospitalized at Vail Health.
“Our hospitalizations for the last month have stayed pretty consistent at between three and five patients,” said Vail Health Chief Population Health Officer Chris Lindley. “We have been in that range for the past six weeks. We are doing very well, at this time, and we are very thankful for that.”
But with rising COVID-19 incidence, there’s higher likelihood of serious cases, Lindley added.
“There is always a few-week delay from the time when you see increased disease in the community and the time that people end up in the hospital,” he said.
To combat that trend, Lindley said Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical will continue expansive testing efforts. He noted that widespread testing effort has been an important tool in keeping serious disease numbers down and keeping COVID-19 away from vulnerable populations.
The most concerning aspect of the current COVID-19 report may be what it doesn’t show. The effect of the Thanksgiving holiday, which health officials worried could be a nationwide super-spreader event, aren’t yet known.
“Over Thanksgiving there were lots of people who didn’t see anyone. That was really hard,” Barron said. “We are appreciative of the people who have been taking difficult personal steps in their own lives and in their workplaces. It’s really important to recognize that many people have made sacrifices and taken the right steps. That is what is going to get us to the place where we can keep our schools in session and our businesses open.”
But more residents need to get serious about their COVID-19 precautions, Barron said. He noted that it isn’t very effective to scold people, but said behaviors simply need to change.
“I think it is really important to recognize that activities that could be done relatively safely when disease levels were low are now considered high risk,” Barron said. “The change in risk for certain activities over time is an important message right now.”
Barron noted that right now even places with COVID-19 precautions in place are seeing disease transmission. The best advice from local public health officials is to limit social contacts and carefully consider personal behavior. That includes following the five commitments of containment, but it also means making good personal decision.
“Any location in public, indoors with no masks for longer than 15 minutes is high risk,” Barron said.
As COVID-19 continues its spread, its economic toll is rising as quickly as its incidence rate. That’s what prompted an online petition that was launched Monday and has steadily gained steam. The petition urges Eagle County officials to participate in a statewide program modeled on Mesa County’s Five Star Variance Protection Program.
“We appreciate our community rallying to support local businesses and are very happy to see the state developing a best practice certification process modeled after the “5-Star” program in Mesa County, which could allow some establishments to increase capacity,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.
“We encourage all interested community members to weigh in on the draft framework,” she continued. “Comments are due by Friday, December 4. In the meantime, we’re reminding people that the fastest, easiest and safest way to help support our businesses and keep schools open for in-person instruction is to follow the five commitments to reduce disease spread in the community.”
“The county is interested in exploring all opportunities to help our businesses and our workers make it through the next few months while still keeping our community safe and healthy,” added Barron.
His reference to “the next few months” is telling.
“We’ve got a vaccine. This is the first time we have had a true finish line,” said Barron.
Local officials hope that the COVID-19 vaccine will be widely available by late winter/early spring.
“That is hugely motivating,” said Barron. “We are in the homestretch and we are also in one of the economically critical periods for businesses and also one of the most critical points for disease spread in our community. We just need to figure out how to come together and make it through the last few months of this.”
For more information about Eagle County’s COVID-19 statistics visit eaglecountycovid.org.
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