Gunnison County sees spike in COVID-19 cases. Pull out the mask

Not out of the woods yet…

by Mark Reaman

Gunnison County is seeing a recent and consistent uptick in the number of positive coronavirus cases. Cases have roughly tripled in the last couple weeks compared to the beginning of summer and this has resulted in the town of Crested Butte reinstituting a mask mandate for most town facilities.

“Throughout the summer, weekly cases averaged around 7 to 10 a week,” said Gunnison County public information officer Loren Ahonen. “In each of the last two weeks, total case numbers for all testing have approximately tripled. We had 35 positive results two weeks ago.”

Ahonen explained that the rise in cases is being recorded from a number of sources. The cases identified in testing are representative of all testing sources in Gunnison County as well as testing outside of Gunnison County for county residents. All who provide COVID-19 testing are required to submit results to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). This includes the community testing conducted through Gunnison Valley Health, Peak Urgent Care, private providers, and any other county source outside of over-the-counter antigen tests purchased from a pharmacy. If there is a positive test for a Gunnison County resident, that data is reported to the State then transferred to Gunnison County for follow-up and included in the data summary.

Positives coming from all demographics

Ahonen said there is not an official breakdown of the number of locals testing positive. The new cases are among county year-round residents, visitors and part-time residents.  “At previous points in the pandemic we have only reported Gunnison County residents in the testing totals,” he said. “Given the mixing of our communities and a variety of factors involved in community level transmission we feel it’s important to characterize the total of positive test results occurring within Gunnison County.

“For the previous week, there were three COVID admits at GVH,” Ahonen continued.  “There was one transfer of a patient over the weekend who needed a higher level of care.”

In a press release to the community, it was noted that the Delta variant is spreading in Gunnison County, the Western Slope, Colorado and nationally.  The Delta variant is now the predominant variant in Colorado.  The Delta variant is more contagious than previous variants and spreads more readily from person to person.  The exposure risks for the recent local cases are varied including unvaccinated individuals, recent travel, recent attendance at a large gathering, household or close contact and other risk factors.

The press release pointed out that 80-85 percent of COVID-19 cases in Gunnison County, across Colorado and the United States are among individuals that are not fully vaccinated. The cases in fully-vaccinated individuals are typically milder with less severe symptoms with less than 10 percent requiring hospitalizations. No recent deaths have occurred in Gunnison County.

The town of Crested Butte on Tuesday reinstated a mask mandate for town facilities. Masks are required in all indoor spaces utilized for the conduct of Town business with some exceptions. This includes all staff offices, meeting rooms, break rooms, and indoor work facilities. According to a memo from Town Manager Dara MacDonald, “The mask requirement for Town employees and facilities will remain in place while Gunnison County remains at a “High” or “Substantial” transmission level.”

The Gunnison Watershed School District this week announced they will not require masks be worn in school but encouraged anyone not vaccinated to take that precaution. The school district will also not require vaccines be obtained by staff or students but again, strongly encouraged those that are eligible to obtain the vaccine.

County watching the situation

Given the increase in positive cases, the county is closely monitoring the situation but is not yet ready to implement new public health orders. “Gunnison County seeks to raise awareness about the level of COVID-19 transmission in the community while recommending that everyone continue to take appropriate precautions to mitigate COVID-19,” Ahonen said. 

“Specifically this means seeking vaccination, and utilizing layers of personal protection by considering ventilation, utilizing face coverings in larger indoor gatherings, and practicing good hand hygiene,” Ahonen continued. “The team at Public Health continues to monitor the data and will recommend mitigation measures as the situation evolves in our community.”

For up to date information, please visit: www.covid19.gunnisoncounty.org for information on where to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination or testing.

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