This article and photo first appeared in the Vail Daily on July 9, 2020
The last two weeks have seen an increase of COVID-19 in Eagle County, but local public health officials aren’t sounding an alarm about the numbers.
“We haven’t seen that exponential growth that would have been really worrisome,” said Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron during his weekly report to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners.
As of early this week, Eagle County remained in the “cautious” stage of its COVID-19 risk indicator. There have been 55 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed over the last 10 days. Barron reported that cases are not significantly increasing day over day, but are increasing at a higher level than previously seen. He noted that the latest data shows about 11% of the individual tests administered return as positive for COVID-19. There have been two COVID-19 hospitalizations at Vail Health over the past couple of weeks but, as of Thursday, Vail Health Hospital had no patients with the virus.
Barron said even with the recent uptick, the local health care system remains strongly positioned to address the pandemic.
“There is one pretty glaring exception, and that is out of our control. That is the testing system,” Barron said.
He noted that because Colorado — as well as the nation — has seen an increased spread of COVID-19 over the past two weeks, there has been a renewed push for testing supplies and lab capacity.
In particular, Barron expressed his concerns about the local trend in test turnaround times.
“We had been able to get it down to a 24- to 48-hour turnaround. During the last couple of weeks the turnaround is back to 4 to 10 days,” he said.
Additionally, Barron said he was concerned that the local, state and national testing systems aren’t getting the attention and energy needed to make sure current shortages and backlogs are a blip rather than a trend.
On the subject of trends, Barron also addressed lagging indicators — COVID-19 data that takes more time to show up in reports.
“We have been hearing that there are more cases but not more deaths or hospitalizations,” noted Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “The fact that those are lagging indicators is important to keep in mind.”
Barron agreed that data that is easier to categorize — new infections for example — don’t tell a complete story. He noted the community has many people who are still wrestling with COVID-19 complications months after they were initially diagnosed. He added the financial impact of the pandemic also continues to spread.
As COVID-19 cases increase locally, Barron said that 60% of the spread can be traced back to close contacts.
“The No. 1 place you are going to get this disease is in a closing contact in a social interaction,” he said.
Barron said about 16% of local reported COVID-19 exposure happened outside of Eagle County — from local residents who traveled and then returned with the virus or from visitors to the area. Public health officials report they couldn’t definitively identify the exposure for about 25% of local cases.
“There is still potential to get exposed from people and situations you are not aware of,” said Barron. That’s why the county stresses its five commitments of containment and instituted a face mask directive as part of its most recent public health order, officials noted.
Barron added it’s important that Eagle County residents educate both each other and area visitors about the local public health expectations.
“There are people we are not going to reach with government messaging,” he said. “People need to make sure they are talking (about COVID-19 precautions) with the people they are spending time with.”