New cases

The Telluride Regional Medical Center is now offering PCR swab tests to anyone regardless of symptoms to test for COVID-19 infection. (Planet file photo)  

After a month-long hiatus between reported active COVID-19 cases in San Miguel County, public health officials recently announced six new cases since June 12, including five Wednesday. Of the new cases, two are related to the case announced June 12, while three are independent, including one non-clinical staff person from the Telluride Regional Medical Center (TMC), according to a county news release. The TMC staff person does not have contact with patients and is not believed to have contracted the virus at the medical center.

“These new positive cases are a reminder that we must remain diligent as a community to slow the spread of COVID-19,” public health director Grace Franklin said in Wednesday’s press release. “If we want to keep opening our economy, it is crucial to adjust our individual practices by wearing face coverings, social distancing, avoiding group gatherings and practicing good hygiene.” 

The combination of months of restrictions, warmer weather and the reopening of the economy has many people experiencing what Franklin called “COVID fatigue.” 

“For months, people have radically modified the way they behave to protect themselves and their loved ones from this aggressive virus,” she said. According to state modeling projections, if communities dip below a 55 percent adherence to social distancing practices, it could result in a surge of cases that would “overwhelm our health care capacity,” Franklin said. “As long as we do not have pharmaceutical interventions to address this virus, we must remain vigilant to minimize the spread.”

Though county officials opted not to pursue an immediate second round of antibody testing after delays receiving the results of the countywide blood tests in March, officials plan to reassess the benefits of a potential second round later this summer.

“As we begin the phased approach of reopening the economy, we would like to focus our efforts on keeping our community and visitors healthy,” San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper said in a June 8 county news release. “After the summer months of increased visitors and increased exposure to the virus, we would like to use the second round of antibody testing to determine the number of our residents who have had the virus as we head into the fall and re-open our schools.”

On Monday, the med center announced the availability of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests, which detect active infection, to anyone in the community, symptomatic or not.

“We really want to encourage people to get tested. It's the best way for our community to use the resources available and for us to better understand the prevalence of disease in our community,” said acting TMC primary care director Dr. Christine Mahoney in a TMC press release, noting that such tests may be useful for those wishing to visit friends or relatives in high-risk categories. “For example, if you’re making plans to have extended close contact with a vulnerable person, such as someone over 65 years old, those who are immunocompromised or who have severe heart, kidney or lung disease, you could time the visit around, and make it contingent upon, negative results.”

In the meantime, despite the urge to eschew bothersome facemasks, officials beseeched residents and visitors to continue maintaining a six-foot distance from others, wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, staying home when feeling poorly and getting tested if COVID symptoms arise.

“If we maintain these actions, and encourage our friends and neighbors to do the same, we should be able to keep the spread low, curve flat, and not overwhelm our hospital systems,” Franklin said.