Virus Outbreak Colorado

Colorado Governor Jared Polis heads into a news conference on the state's efforts against the spread of the new coronavirus Thursday in Denver. The amended Public Health Order has allowed more businesses to reopen, including bars. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

After a month-plus without an active positive COVID-19 case in San Miguel County, public health officials have announced 12 new cases in the past week, including seven on Sunday from tests that were performed on Friday and Saturday. Four of the latest cases are related to two of the five cases that were announced June 17, according to a county news release.

The positive individuals include a 16-year-old male, three 19-year-old males, a 37-year-old male, a 37-year-old female and a 46-year-old female.

The three 19-year-old males were traveling through San Miguel County on a road trip. They felt sick and got tested at the Telluride Regional Medical Center. After getting tested, the three friends maintained isolation. All cases are considered active, however, no individuals have required advanced care or hospitalization.

The individuals have been notified by the public health department and are in isolation, as officials conducted contact tracing. Additional tests from Friday and Saturday were still pending, as of press time Tuesday afternoon, and will be announced as results come in, according to the release. Since Friday, 120 test results have been received and the state health department has been contacting those who have tested negative to assist with the influx.

The new cases bring the total county cases to 34, with 12 active cases and 22 recovered, according to the latest numbers as of press time.

County manager Mike Bordogna told the Daily Planet this week that additional positive cases aren’t necessarily surprising, especially as the county slowly reopens its economy.

“Increased cases have been expected and will likely continue as factors like group sizes, travel, visitation and activity increase,” he explained. “This has been expected and is likely to continue until there is a vaccine or anti-viral therapies to combat the disease.” 

Public health officials are constantly evaluating caseload and trends, hospital and testing capacity, and contact tracing in determining public health orders. At this time, “ample testing is available at the county medical centers, which was bolstered by Telluride Regional Medical Center’s expansion of testing offered in response to recent cases; contact tracing is being handled in a quick, effective manner by the public health team; and hospital capacity in the region is adequate and ICU beds are available,” according to the release.

“Due to our current metrics, there is no need to tighten measures at this point,” public health director Grace Franklin said, “but compliance is critical, as we do not want to take a step back as we begin to reopen the economy.”

Bordogna added, “Grace has said in the past that two of the factors would have to be threatened to freeze or tighten restrictions. So far, only one of those criteria has been affected — the caseload and trends.”

Reverting to stricter guidelines like those initially implemented is an option, he said, if two or more of the criteria are threatened.

“It may be necessary if we lose capacity in any of the three remaining areas. Though it would be difficult, we have seen it take place in other communities and places, and would be an option,” Bordogna said. “It would mean shutting back down things that draw people to our communities.”

With the state amending its Public Health Order, more sectors of the local economy may reopen, as the county has mostly mirrored the state’s guidelines, with the exception of lodging capacity. The county’s phased reopening of the lodging sector includes allowing a 50-percent maximum capacity, starting this week.

“This was a carefully planned and phased approach, after a lot of work with the lodging community. The number of people coming to the community has not been significantly affected by lodging capacity; they have been staying in our surrounding communities that do not have the same expectations or communication with their overnight visitors that we have in place. It is better to have them stay in lodging that communicates the expectations before and during their stays with industry-best practices than to have them coming in uninformed,” Bordogna said.

“Likewise, the most recent positive cases have primarily been local residents not following protocols, so to penalize visitors as a result is non sequitur. If we restrict visitors that are following the rules, it does not increase our safety, nor help the notion of locals ignoring them. We are trying to be careful and strategic with the restrictions that we have and using them to address where concerns exist, not using them in a blanket fashion to treat any pockets of outbreak.”

The new state orders allow: Organized adult and youth sports can be played with 25 players both indoors and outdoors. Caps on outdoor recreation activities do not include staff. The 25-percent capacity at up to 50-person cap in gyms excludes staff, and allows lockers to be open. Residential camps are authorized to open following the summer camp requirements as outlined in the Public Health Order. Limited health care settings are authorized to operate at 50 percent capacity, not to exceed 50 people. Personal services are authorized to provide services to the face that require removal of the customer’s face covering, and requires individuals providing these services to wear both a face mask or covering and a face shield. Bars can open to in-person business at 25-percent capacity, up to 50 people. Larger restaurants and bars are authorized to operate indoors with up to 100 people. Bars and restaurants are required to use the Social Distancing Space Calculator provided by the state to determine capacity.

Indoor and outdoor events such as receptions, non-critical auctions, theaters, trade shows, markets, rodeos, fairs, festivals and parades may operate at 100 people per room indoors and 175 people per designated activity outdoors, calculated using the Social Distancing Space Calculator, which can be found at covid19.colorado.gov/safer-at-home/social-distancing-calculator-for-indoor-and-outdoor-events.

“The updated order will allow our community to continue on a gradual opening approach that will further support our local businesses, while remaining focused on health protocols,” San Miguel County Commissioner Kris Holstrom said in a recent county release. “It’s important that we remain mindful and diligent with best practices as we move forward.”

Officials continue to urge the importance of following best practices, wearing facemasks, practicing social distancing, avoiding large groups, washing hands frequently, and staying home and getting tested when sick.

“For the health of our community, we must be vigilant about following safety protocols,” Franklin said in the release. “The recent cases reported over the past week should remind us that the virus is still present, and that we must take necessary steps to reduce the spread.”

As always, individuals who have been exposed to a person who tested positive must quarantine for 14 days and get tested if they experience symptoms. Due to low viral shedding (when a virus replicates inside the body and is released into the environment), it is best to test seven days after exposure, with the possibility of inaccurate results if tested sooner, according to officials. Individuals who received negative test results should continue to quarantine 14 days from exposure, as PCR tests have a 20-30 percent false-negative rate.

“It is crucial that all individuals who were exposed to a positive case behave as if they have the virus and quarantine for 14 days to keep our community healthy,” county medical officer Dr. Sharon Grundy said in the release. “Testing is most important for those who have developed symptoms, and they should contact the medical center for an evaluation. People who have been exposed and are asymptomatic should allow seven days post-exposure before considering testing.”

For the most up-to-date coronavirus information, visit sanmiguelcountyco.gov/coronavirus.