Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Increase in county COVID-19 positive test results this week

A reminder that it’s still here

by Mark Reaman

While acknowledging four people in the county reported positive for COVID-19 on Monday, June 22, county officials say this is not yet something to be concerned about but is a reminder that the virus has not left the valley.

In Monday evening’s regular coronavirus update from the county, the report stated, “We had four new positive results today from individuals who were tested over the last five days. One had an out-of-county address who now lives here and is being counted in our total. The individual had been traveling prior to their positive test. Two are asymptomatic pre-surgery screenings. One is an asymptomatic result from contact tracing. It is clear that the virus remains in our community.”

Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom explained that the county had not seen such a reporting spike in positive cases since early April, when three people tested positive on April 6.

Under the county’s so-called Coronameter, the risk level would be adjusted to the more restrictive Yellow level from the current Blue if three of seven specific criteria are met. One such criterion is that “Three or more symptomatic individuals test positive per day for any three days in a seven-day period.” Other thresholds are related to testing availability, bed capacity at Gunnison Valley Hospital and health of GVH employees.

“Given we haven’t had a day with multiple positives for a while, Monday’s number was a bit of an initial shock,” said Sandstrom. “But there is nothing to panic about yet. We built our risk guidelines based on our first wave from the winter when we only had enough kits to test people who were symptomatic. That’s why with our thresholds we are counting only symptomatic individuals. We want to go apples to apples. Monday there were three people who were asymptomatic.

“People should definitely use this as a reminder that the virus is still out there. We need to be careful,” Sandstrom continued. “It can grow exponentially if people are not social distancing.”

Sandstrom pointed out that some states such as Texas and Arizona and some communities such as Basalt and Telluride are seeing recent spikes of the virus in young adults. He said teenagers and people in their 20s and 30s appeared to be more apt to not follow social distancing guidelines. While they might contract the virus and might not get too sick, they could bring it home and spread it to those in the more vulnerable population.

Gunnison County is still waiting to hear from the state whether the variance requested by Public Health director Joni Reynolds to allow a maximum of 250 people at local outdoor gatherings will be granted. Sandstrom noted that Reynolds is part of a state committee advising on thresholds for restrictions; one issue of debate is how to treat lower populated, rural communities like Gunnison.

As for the COVID-19 testing being conducted for people preparing for surgery, Sandstrom said that is like a random sampling. He noted the science team is studying how much testing would be needed in the county to extrapolate what is happening generally in the county. “The testing capacity is much better now than it was in the first wave,” he said. “The good news is we now have the systems in place to deal with a new wave if it comes. We have more testing, the hospital is better prepared, we can scale up beds quickly if needed. We are in a much better place than the first time.

“Joni [Reynolds] has made it clear to all of us on the Incident Command Team that more positive results should be expected in the county,” Sandstrom continued. “We now just have to keep it all manageable so it doesn’t ramp up out of control. We have to trust the systems we built up the last several months that are now in place. The four positives on Monday are a good reminder that we are not done with this and we must continue to be vigilant about masking and social distancing in the community.”

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