Centura Health testing data shows majority of positive cases are visitors

Heather Knappe, a nurse for Centura Health, tests a patient for coronavirus at the drive-up community testing clinic at the Vista Professional Building in Frisco on April 28.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Summit Daily archives

KEYSTONE — Since Summit County’s economy reopened after the pandemic-induced shutdown in March and April, a major question lingered: What’s going to happen when visitors bring the virus to the county?

At a town hall meeting Tuesday, Aug. 4, Aaron Parmet, infection prevention manager at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, presented the health system’s testing data, which reflects the impact of visitors in the county. Overall, the data suggests that while visitors have flocked to Summit County in an effort to enjoy a summer in the mountains, they haven’t majorly impacted the local response to the virus. 

Centura Health, which owns St. Anthony, oversees the majority of testing in Summit County, including nearly all of the testing of visitors. 

According to the Centura testing data — which only includes the nasal test and excludes tests of people without symptoms who were tested ahead of an elective surgery — visitors have accounted for a small majority of positive cases per week since mid-June while the number of people being tested in the county is mostly residents. The numbers aren’t surprising, Parmet said.

“There’s roughly 30,000 residents, and we know the county’s been quite busy, approaching even capacity,” he said. “So if we have more visitors than we have residents, should we be surprised that we have more positives from our visitors than our residents? No, I don’t think we should be surprised by that.”

While visitors are making up a majority of positive cases, their testing positivity rate rests at 6%, which is not cause for alarm, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said. 

“(Resident data is) below 5% right now, but we were above 5% not too long ago,” Wineland said. “So the percent positivity for visitors … is showing that they’re not having a higher percentage than we are.”

While residents make up the majority of tests in Summit County, visitors have accounted for the majority of positive results since mid-June, according to Centura Health testing data.
Screenshot from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center presentation on visitor testing data

Wineland pointed out that visitors are likely to no longer be in the county by the time they receive a positive result, so the county will continue to use resident data — which is reported on its coronavirus webpage — to inform decisions. 

Despite an influx of visitors in June, the case numbers among residents have been decreasing for the past few weeks, Wineland said. According to the coronavirus webpage, the county has confirmed a total of 324 positive cases of the virus, and the number of new cases per day is steadily declining. 

“We have all of these visitors and some of them are sick, but they don’t seem to be driving a spike in local infections,” Parmet said. “I think it’s almost certainly due to masking and distancing and other public health measures.”

Parmet also presented updates to Centura’s testing strategy. The hospital system has contracted with a private lab in Boulder to analyze test results, a move that should prevent delays in results. 

Centura also is working on placing data analyzers in each hospital so results can come back in less than an hour. Parmet said analyzers will be in the hospital by October. Centura is working to get analyzers in the daily testing clinics.

In September, the hospital will install thermal scanners, which will be able to determine a person’s temperature as they walk in the door, Parmet said.

Centura Health testing data shows that Summit County residents continue to make up the majority of those tested in the county.
Screenshot from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center presentation on visitor testing data

Ski season anxiety

While the visitor data gives a glimpse of what winter might look like, county officials are still anxiously awaiting a decision about the upcoming ski season. At the meeting, town managers and other community leaders shared their concern for what might happen to the local economy if ski season were to be canceled. 

Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen said he’d like to see some metrics that indicate whether ski season could happen. 

“We can put them out in the community and say, ‘If this doesn’t happen, ski season isn’t going to happen,’” he said. “That’s a pretty concerning train of thought.”

Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence and County Manager Scott Vargo said the decision about reopening ski areas ultimately will come down to ski area owners and state guidance. Summit County leaders have led the way in approaching the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to ask for guidance on ski areas, which officials from the state admitted they had not yet started discussing, Lawrence said. 

“I think the state is very much in today’s moment and not looking ahead,” Lawrence said. “Versus us in resort towns, we’re always looking ahead to the next ski season. That’s our cycle. It’s the way we do things. We absolutely want to have a ski season.”

Vargo and Lawrence also met with Copper Mountain Resort leaders to discuss the ski area’s plans for reopening. Vail Resorts, which owns Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort, is not ready to discuss reopening plans, Lawrence said.

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