covid

As of press time Tuesday afternoon, San Miguel County had 67 total positive COVID-19 cases, including nine active. (Courtesy image)

Positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise in San Miguel County. Officials announced two additional positives during Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting, increasing the total number of cases to 67, including nine active cases, as of press time.

The two new cases are a 49-year-old female who was exposed to a previously reported workplace outbreak and a 22-year-old male who had close contact with a known positive, according to a county news release.

There have also been delays in receiving test results, including most recently testing conducted over the Fourth of July weekend. Dr. Sharon Grundy of the Telluride Regional Medical Center explained the lab that received the tests was supposed to be operating at full capacity over the holiday weekend but didn’t, which resulted in a two-week delay. Lengthier wait times are somewhat expected, San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin said, as there is a “bottleneck” that occurs with increased testing. The Telluride med center and Uncompahgre Medical Center in Norwood send tests to several in- and out-of-state labs, which also affects return times. Typically, the Telluride med center waits two to three days, while the Norwood clinic may wait between five and seven days. Test results aren’t received on Sundays or Mondays.

The recent positives are a mix of locals and visitors, Franklin explained.

“We’ve seen a significant increase over the last few weeks of positives as we’ve seen cases come up both within our locals and those who are traveling across our county,” she said.

Two weeks ago, 161 tests were administered. Of the 17 that came back positive, seven were locals and 10 were non-locals, which was a 10 percent increase in cases. Last week, 171 tests were conducted, resulting in 11 positives, or a 6.5-percent increase. Grundy said the med center’s ideal testing capacity is 150 per week.

The importance of contact tracing is a key metric in containing the coronavirus locally. Grundy said when someone tests positive, especially if they’re a local, there’s usually an additional 10 to 12 tests as a result of contact tracing, as there also likely to infect between two and three additional people.

“It looks like when one person is infected, they tend to infect 2.5 people, so that’s where contact tracing becomes super important. It just starts to escalate out and have this lily-pad effect,” she said. “ … There’s been an increase, and again, it puts a strain on the system.”

The Telluride med center has hired additional staff to help with lab processing and communication, as that’s where a majority of the county testing takes place. Anyone can still get tested, Grundy said, but there may be a wait, depending on known positives and contact tracing. The Uncompahgre Medical Center, which has a smaller staff, is only testing those with symptoms.

Virus-related care, including seeing 50 to 60 respiratory cases a week at the outdoor treatment tents, has essentially created a whole new department on top of standard emergency services and primary care.

“We feel maxed out,” Grundy said. “ … I don’t want to see us get any busier.”

She added that Montrose Memorial Hospital and St. Mary’s in Grand Junction, where testing is also available, have felt the effects of the virus recently.

With the school year approaching, the med center is focusing on well-child checks more, Grundy explained. The Telluride School District is expecting to welcome students back to classrooms mostly likely with an in-person and at-home model. Grundy said the community needs to do its part to help out.

“What we do over these next four weeks impacts whether or not that school actually has children in that building or not,” she said. “Having rates that are increasing percentage-wise is not a good metric, so we need to do our part.”

The five commitments — wearing a face covering in public, frequent hand washing, physically distancing, getting tested if experiencing symptoms and staying home when feeling sick — are the best ways to combat the virus, Franklin said. 

“We need to recommit to the five commitments,” she said. “ … All of us have gotten that COVID fatigue. We’re all over it. We’re all tired and want this to end, but the end is not anywhere in sight. But if we recommit to these best practices, to these tools that we have, we’re able to get kids back into school, which has huge benefits on not only our kids’ growth but also our community and economy. It helps us keep our businesses moving and not dialing back like we’ve seen across the nation where other folks have had to go back to shelter in place or stay at home. We’re trying our best from keeping that pendulum from swinging too far one way or the other. 

The Telluride outdoor clinic setup had to be slightly changed, too, as people have been walking through the area more often. The Telluride Marshal’s Department helped put up some additional barricades, and tents were resituated.

“A lot of tourists tend to use this alleyway, so you’d be out there testing somebody, and you’d have people from all over the country stopping and walking up to providers, asking, ‘What are you all doing out here?’” Grundy said.  

The county’s COVID-19 dashboard is updated Monday through Friday, while the county public health department puts out press releases Tuesdays and Fridays. County manager Mike Bordogna said a new website will be rolled out soon. For more virus-related information, visit sanmiguelcountyco.gov/coronavirus.