Positive COVID numbers keep county on the thin edge

Better than Aspen but…

[ By Mark Reaman ]

Like many of the mountain resorts in Colorado, positive coronavirus numbers in Gunnison County remain stubbornly high. Still, this area for the moment appears in better shape than most other resort communities, especially when compared to ski towns like Aspen.

In fact, Pitkin County will close indoor dining at restaurants Sunday and move fully into Red-level restrictions. While the resort’s ski mountains will remain open in Aspen, a 50-percent capacity limit on lodging in Aspen and Snowmass Village will take effect and no on-mountain restaurants will allow people inside to eat.

Pitkin County’s incident rate is fluctuating between 2,500 and 3,000 positive infections per 100,000 people while Gunnison County’s is in the 400-650-range.

Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom said the Incident Command Team is watching similar communities and the fear is our area could see an explosion in cases such as is being seen in Aspen.

“We say it every week, but we need to stay on top of it,” he said. “The Pitkin County numbers are really high and we don’t want to go there. Basing numbers on a population of 100,000 in rural areas is not a good way to measure, but it is obvious there is an issue when the numbers spike like that. Our numbers indicate we have plenty of transmission happening in the county but if it spikes more, we could implement tighter restrictions as well.”

The local numbers have remained on the same consistent level since last November. “That’s the difficult part,” Sandstrom said. “We have been on a high plateau since last fall when we saw the spike at Western. The numbers have stayed in that same high range for weeks now and that is concerning. The public health nurses, the hospital ER, the testing site have all been running full bore for weeks. Half of the recorded positives have been recorded since December 1 so it is very much here.”

The good news continues to be that hospitalizations remain low and under control. As of January 13, there was one person at the Gunnison Valley Hospital for COVID-19 and that person was considered in the “green” or low risk category.

Sandstrom laid out the progression to demonstrate the recent increase in positives. “As of Labor Day we had 250 total positives. Mid-November saw 450 positives. On December 1 there were 550 positives and by December 22 the county had climbed to 700 positives. Barely a week later on December 31, 815 positives were on the books. The numbers kept climbing in the new year and by January 10, Gunnison County had 909 total positives on the books.

“We have been seeing 9-10 positive tests per day, seven days per week,” Sandstrom continued. “The testing site at GVH, the public health contact tracing program and everything associated with it has been running in overdrive since November. The fact is that as the number of positives stays high, the natural trend is for the cases to get more severe pand hospitalizations and even deaths to increase. That’s just the math. There will be more impacts on the hospital and if that happens too much there will be the need to increase restrictions. That’s how our Coronameter works. We are on the edge.”

According to the county’s data studio tracking, as of the first part of January, many of the positives are related to the 24-49 year-old age group.
The county is offering free COVID testing this weekend. Testing in Gunnison will be at the Fairgrounds on Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. In Crested Butte, testing will be held at the Community School on Saturday, Jaunary 16, also from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Figuring out the count
Meanwhile, local and state health officials are still determining how to categorize a recent COVID death associated with the county. Sandstrom said that an 80-year-old man who lived basically on the Gunnison-Saguache county line passed away on December 23. The man came in to GVH complaining of possible COVID-19 symptoms and he was immediately transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. He later passed away and the Mesa County coroner listed his residence as Gunnison County even though he technically resided in Saguache County.

Vaccine update
The county is continuing its slow and steady vaccination process. Sandstrom said the state shipped about 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine each of the last two weeks but there is no word on if that is what the county can expect to receive each week or if the number of doses will be increased in the future.

More than 4,000 county residents have filled in the new county vaccine interest form with most by people who would be near the front of the vaccination line.

Sandstrom said everyone in the county’s so-called 1A category has been offered the vaccine and given an opportunity to get the shot. The county is now lining out the 1B grouping that includes first responders and people over 70 years old. From there the next grouping of frontline workers are preparing for vaccination opportunities. That group includes people like teachers, food servers and grocery store workers. Sandstrom said once the people are categorized, they are randomly selected to get the available vaccines.

Location a factor?
When questioned about the county data studio no longer showing where people who test positive are living, Sandstrom said there were two main reasons for taking that off the information site. The first is that the location information supplied was not always accurate. The second reason was the mobility of the valley so if someone tested positive and lived in Gunnison, that person could easily work in Crested Butte. “So overall we just felt the data wasn’t representing the risk associated with location,” said Sandstorm. “The bottom line is we are seeing positive COVID cases all over the county.”

He again reiterated the importance of staying aware even though everyone is suffering from COVID fatigue. “Stay socially distanced and wear the mask in public,” he said. “That is keeping us better off than a lot of other places. All you have to do is look over the hill in Aspen to see how much more difficult things could be.”

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