Eagle County officials confirmed Tuesday that there are 11 new cases of COVID-19 associated with a group of infections, primarily among Basalt High School students.
However, identifying and tracking the contacts of people with the disease caused by the new coronavirus is proving difficult, according to a county press release.
“Disease researchers have noted an unwillingness among some infected individuals and families to isolate themselves at home and share information about events where other people would have been exposed,” the statement said. “This information is vitally important to help prevent further spread within the community.”
Justin Patrick, Eagle County communications manager, said he was surprised by the reluctance.
“That is an anomaly. Most people participate, is what I understand, ”he said of the search efforts for contacts. “I don’t think I’ve ever come across this before.”
It is a concern that Pitkin County commissioners voiced separately during a working session Tuesday afternoon.
“There are reports of contact trackers in New York State that people are refusing to answer questions, so there are probably a lot of people to contact … that they are not because people are not honest looking for contacts “Steve Child said. “Have we seen any of that in Pitkin County to date, where people are reluctant?”
Pitkin County Jon Peacock was unable to give a concrete answer.
“I think unfortunately, like the New York experience, we will probably only know after the fact,” he said. “I fully suspect that there are people who are concerned about what it means for them or their friends to be identified as a contact, and that is something that will have to be a public discussion. It must be an acknowledgment that this is something we owe each other. others during a pandemic. This is just different, and we’re not really trying to punish people. “
On the contrary, Peacock continued: An effort by the community to contain the spread of COVID-19 will be essential to continue the economic reopening. On Thursday, the county health board will meet to discuss future local directives in light of Governor Jared Polis’ announcement Monday that the state will soon enter what is called the “protect our neighbors” phase from restrictions. relaxed.
Official guidelines have yet to be released, Peacock told commissioners on Tuesday, but in the new phase, bars will be able to reopen to 25% of capacity or up to 50 people, and museums and summer camps will resume operations. .
Perhaps the biggest change in state policy relates to group sizes. The allowed number of people in a group, by state, is currently 10; Under the “protect our neighbors” guidelines, that number will increase to 500, Peacock explained.
Whether Pitkin County does the same will be a topic of discussion during the health board meeting.
“There will probably be a conversation about the next change about the ‘protect our neighbors’ phase of the public health order, which I think is a pretty significant change in strategy in terms of the COVID response,” he said.
Statistics from the COVID-19 case will inform those conversations, he continued. Five new cases in Pitkin County were recorded just Tuesday.
“Our case investigation and contact tracing can only protect the community to the extent that the community is willing to engage with us,” said Peacock. “We really need people to be honest with us so that we can spread the slowness of this virus and not return to the situation where we need to take more draconian public health measures again, and we only do it together.”
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury noted that financial assistance programs remain in place for anyone who needs it, even if someone loses two weeks of work due to quarantine.
“We continue to have a financial assistance program for people who, if faced with quarantine, may not be thinking of it as an option to assist them during quarantine,” he said. “That is a terrible situation someone has to be in, and we want them to think about the community as well, which is difficult to do when you are in an individual situation that is so pressing.”
Garfield County recorded 12 new cases Tuesday, and Eagle County’s count increased by four. It was unclear Tuesday night if any of those new group-related cases were identified among Basalt High School students, as the numbers are recorded in the counties of residence, rather than where a patient is being tested.
“While many of the cases are between Eagle County residents, the investigation is a coordinated effort between Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties,” the Eagle County statement said.
Patrick underscored the importance of coordination and communication both internally and with the public as case numbers continue to rise amid reopens.
“We want to respect privacy, it is not anyone’s fault that they get sick,” he said. “We are anticipating that it will continue to happen.”
It is the second officially registered outbreak in the center of the valley; On June 8, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the City Market in El Jebel reported five staff members who tested positive for COVID-19, and five others who were considered positive positives, although they had not been evaluated.
To respond effectively, Eagle County has changed its communication strategy, as the Tuesday press release noted.
“We realize that we receive inquiries every time there is a group,” said Patrick. “We are trying to come up with a more organized response, so when there is something like this, our epidemiologist [will] prepare a noteworthy event report. “
The 11 confirmed cases in Basalt constituted a “noteworthy event,” so Eagle County sent out a press release to communicate accurate information as well as to plead with the public.
“It is not about personal risk tolerance, it is about making decisions that help protect the community,” Heath Harmon, Eagle County Director of Public Health, said in a prepared statement.