With school slated to open Aug. 25, county residents and visitors urged to up their COVID-19 prevention game
Health officials say is disease spread is reduced, risk meter can move from red to yellow
Eagle County’s COVID-19 risk meter remains solidly in the red/concerned zone this week, with less than three weeks until the planned first day of school.
School officials have stated that unless the meter drops to at least the yellow/cautious zone, in-person instruction won’t happen. But even though current, new COVID-19 case numbers are twice as high as what they need to be before health officials downgrade the local risk, there is still a chance that can happen before the slated Aug. 25 school start date.
“The intent of the meter is really to give our community an idea of where we are sitting, right now,” explained Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron during his weekly update for the Eagle County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday morning.
And just where is Eagle County this week? Barron noted that over the last two weeks, there have been 170 new cases of COVID-19 reported. In order to drop the risk meter into the yellow zone, that number needs to be 96 or fewer.
Determining the risk
Barron noted several factors play into the risk level determination including the new cases reported over a two-week period and the number of hospitalizations, or serious COVID-19 cases, in the county. He said the county’s new case numbers are nearly three times the level that the state sees as concerning. But Barron also noted that the number of serious COVID-19 cases in Eagle County remains low, which means the county is doing a good job keeping its most vulnerable populations safe.
So, if serious disease numbers stay low and spread numbers decrease, we can move out of the red zone, Barron explained.
“This needle does not move based on what I feel like each morning,” Barron said. “The risk meter is based on the numbers. If we move the number of new cases down, that will move the meter down.”
Every single resident and visitor has a role to play in decreasing the risk level, he stressed. First and foremost, Barron said everyone needs to comply with the five commitments of containment.
“In your personal life, this is the biggest thing you can do,” he said.
At a time when mask-wearing and social distancing is vitally important, Barron said public behavior can be disappointing.
“We see a lot of people refusing to limit close contact and continuing to ignore containment orders,” he said. “As a community we need to tell our neighbors ‘Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that girl.’”
However, since new local COVID-19 cases spiked following the July 4 holiday week, Barron said he is seeing more community participation in efforts to contain the spread.
“Generally, there is an awareness over the past couple of weeks that we took things too far,” he said.
Barron reported that statistics over the past 14 days clearly demonstrate there is community spread of COVID-19 in Eagle County. For 38% of newly reported cases, there were close contacts of a known case and 3% were exposed outside of Eagle County. But 59% of new cases could not recall a known exposure to someone with illness or confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
“In many cases, people who tested positively refused to identify close contacts and close contacts refused to follow quarantine orders, which perpetuates spread in the community impacting all residents,” Barron stated in his report.
He also noted that front line workers (service and construction industries) continue to experience the burden of disease activity. That is concerning on several fronts, Barron noted. First, this population is the county’s most economically vulnerable group.
“A lot of the people who are most impacted by this disease are the people who don’t have the resources to take care of themselves the way they need to,” Barron said.
Additionally, the entire county economy is dependent on the service industry to operate. So, if a group of workers at a given business all succumb to COVID-19, that business cannot remain open.
The good news
On the positive front, Barron said that COVID-19 testing turnaround has improved from where it stood a couple of weeks ago.
“Generally a lot of our providers are back into the two- or three-day turnaround,” he said.
Additionally, Barron said that over the past couple of weeks, 17% of the tests administered are coming back positive, versus 20% earlier this summer.
And while they aren’t where they need to be, Barron said the number of new local cases is trending downward.
“What we have seen over the last week is more positive,” said Barron. “People are getting the message and realizing that it backfired to take more risks.”
Other county officials urged the public to build on the downward spread trend.
“It is within our control, as the general public, to move the meter,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney. “We can move to yellow and stay in yellow.”
Yellow, as in the color of school buses that can be running in a couple of weeks if the risk meter needle moves to the left.