STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A hunting camp in Routt County recently experienced an outbreak of positive COVID-19 cases, county health officials confirmed Wednesday.
The camp had 10 confirmed cases, none of which were permanent county residents. Not being local residents, those positives were not included in the county’s total number of cases.
“They are here in the county doing their work,” Nicole Harty, the county’s permanent epidemiologist, said as she briefed the Routt County Board of Commissioners during a public health meeting Wednesday. “We know where they are and that they’re in quarantine.”
According to Harty, the source of the outbreak was an out-of-state guest who had symptoms while they were attending the camp. That person then transmitted the disease throughout the camp, infecting 10 camp employees. That person was not tested until they returned to their home state, and the camp was notified.
“(This) highlights again the risk; not cohorting and trying to limit your contact among people,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County Public Health medical officer.
As more hunters enter the county, it’s a good time for educating local guides and outfitters about COVID-19, Commissioner Doug Monger said.
“Hey, you guys can handle anything but maybe not COVID,” Monger said.
With rifle season ahead, the bulk of expected hunters is still to come, Harrington said.
A family event that took place in Routt County also had an outbreak of COVID-19, with five people there testing positive. A total of 16 out-of-county residents tested positive between the hunting camp and family event.
In the past two weeks, from Sept. 7 to 20, Routt County has added 11 positive cases to its total, not counting the 10 from the hunting camp. That translates to 42.9 cases per 100,000 people and puts the county now into the medium spread category, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There were eight positive cases from Sept. 14 to 20, with five cases in one day. Almost 400 tests were conducted in the past week.
Harty said the number of cases in a two-week period per 100,000 people is the best metric to compare what’s happening in the county to what’s happening elsewhere in Colorado.
Routt County’s increase in cases follows the statewide trend, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said.
“The trend in number of cases per day is increasing,” Harty confirmed. “We’re seeing things start to trend up, but not quite as high as things were at the end of July.”
Harty concluded the increasing positivity is a sign of more cases in the community, not just because more tests are being conducted.
“Sure, there was an increase in the number of tests that were done but not in a proportion of the number of new cases that we had seen,” she explained.
Routt County is now also at a C- rating for social distancing compared to its activity prior to COVID-19.
“I don’t believe it’s at a point where we need to be incredibly concerned about it and just notice what’s going on,” Harrington said.
Dr. Fritha Morrison, a temporary epidemiologist for the county, said the latest test results are likely the beginning of results from Labor Day. That will continue for the next week or two, she said.
Harrington was especially cognizant of the demographics of the positive cases from last week. As he noted, four of the eight cases were found in individuals ages 40 to 50, and the other four who tested positive were in their 20s to 30s.
“Contrast that to what we’ve seen in the weeks this summer,” Harrington said. “If this trend continues, it would be a concerning trend. It would emphasize there is a greater community spread and in more segments of our population.”
Another concern with the latest cases is the explanation as to how the disease was transmitted. As Harrington explained, there wasn’t much explanation as to how they contracted the virus.
“This would indicate increased community spread,” he affirmed. “But we’ve been here before. We know we can do better and be out of this.”
Despite now being in the medium spread category, the county is considering putting in a request with the state to be placed in the Level 1 category for the Safer at Home phase.
The lowest phase, Protect Our Neighbors means that communities that meet certain criteria have less stringent restrictions than under Stay at Home and Safer at Home, according to the state health department.
A transition to the Protect Our Neighbors phase would be based upon the county’s hospitalization and positivity rates. UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center has cared for a total of eight hospitalized patients with COVID-19 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.
An official decision from the county commissioners on whether to submit a request to join the Level 1 Safer at Home phase is expected this week.
Routt County only provides updates on its positive COVID-19 case count on Tuesday evenings through its online dashboard, then shares the data and analysis the following day with the three Routt County commissioners during a public health meeting. While the state updates its numbers when positive tests are received, county officials have stated there are no exceptions that will be made for early reporting despite having any new positive cases.
“The numbers alone do not tell the story, and public behavior should not change based on case count,” Robin Schepper with the Routt County Office of Community Engagement said in an email to Steamboat Pilot & Today. “We need to practice the Five Commitments to Containment regardless of the case count.”
This article was originally published in Steamboat Pilot & Today on Sept. 23, 2020.