COVID cases continue major spike throughout county

179 new cases last week…and more expected

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

For the second week in a row, local COVID case numbers have increased drastically in Gunnison County, much like the other ski communities across the state. The confirmed case numbers jumped from 42 positive tests in the fourth week of December to 179 during the final week of 2021. The effects can be seen in many areas of the local economy, from temporarily shuttered restaurants, to the Crested Butte town hall closing until mid-month, to several reports of long waiting lines at the Gunnison Valley Hospital (GVH) for COVID testing. Local businesses have increasingly put up signs requiring masks of any patrons, regardless of vaccination status, and the latest Omicron variant has been officially confirmed in Gunnison County. 

According to Gunnison County public information officer Loren Ahonen, there were 179 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gunnison County (209 including probable and suspected cases through at-home testing) during the week of December 26 through January 1. Of those positive cases, 150 were residents. Gunnison County public health has stated that based on early data from testing this week, case counts continue to grow at a rapid rate and the potential for exposure over the holiday weekend was significant.

“Cases are dispersed across the Valley,” wrote Ahonen in an e-mail to the Crested Butte News on Tuesday. He said it was not clear if there were more cases concentrated in any particular areas. “Given the volume of cases and the case investigation process the nurses do not currently have an address breakdown.” 

Public health officials have also confirmed the first seven cases of the Omicron variant in the county through the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPHE) testing. Omicron’s presence has been suspected in the community for several weeks, and because the test sequencing is backdated by more than a week it is expected that substantially more Omicron cases will turn up. Official confirmation of the Omicron variant coincides with rapid growth of COVID-19 infections in Gunnison County.

“Based on documented cases and the significant growth of confirmed cases in our community, it is safe to assume that the Omicron variant is spreading in our community,” added Ahonen. 

 It seems the hospital system is managing relatively well given the new challenges. GVH infection control officer Jodie Leonard said on Wedensday, January 5, that there have been two hospital transfers and one admission over the past 10 days. 

“Since the majority of cases are being seen in outpatient areas, the hospital is not being overwhelmed by COVID patients.  We have remained steady and busy, as is typical for this time of year.  There is a rough average of 8-10 patients per day in beds at the hospital.  The healthcare system was stressed before this wave because of staffing shortages. Now, there are many staff out with illness, including COVID. This is the case all over Colorado,” said Leonard. “Currently the staffing shortages are manageable and all operations are running normally. We do have contingency plans in place to keep critical areas of operation staffed appropriately as needed.” 

Beginning Thursday, January 6, the free community COVID testing site will move from the GVH parking lot to the location of the summertime Cattlemen’s carnival parking lot at the corner of South 14th Street and Evans Street. People can access the site by coming down South 14th Street and turning left on Evans Street just before the Public Safety Center.  

According to a county-wide situation update on Tuesday, the testing site has been exceptionally busy in the morning, and people making an appointment should consider a slot later in the day. Tests can be scheduled at my.primary.health/l/gvh.

At-home testing is now available with a rapid antigen test (BinaxNOW). Public health officials request that people report results –particularly if positive—to all recent contacts and through https://covidbinax.colorado.gov. Those with COVID symptoms who have a negative antigen result are advised to follow up with a PCR test.

 “The updated CDC guidelines on isolation and quarantine appear to be causing some confusion across the community,” according to Ahonen.  

“With the new guidelines, individuals are only allowed to end quarantine after day five if they are asymptomatic OR their symptoms have resolved. Symptom resolution means that you no longer have symptoms. If you continue to have symptoms, you should continue to isolate. Also, those leaving isolation after five days must wear a mask in public for an additional five days.”

Western Colorado University has announced that students have the COVID booster by January 31 and comply with new CDC guidelines regarding fall vaccination status.

“As a community, we can work together to minimize the spread of coronavirus and the associated impact. An essential part of limiting transmission is testing. If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 we encourage you to seek testing and isolate until you have a result. Even if your symptoms are minor (scratchy throat, nasal congestion, etc.) we recommend you seek testing,” concluded Ahonen.

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