As counties across Colorado struggle to control COVID-19, Summit County takes steps to tamp down its own rising incidence rate
Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland delivered some not-so-great news Tuesday, Oct. 19, during a board of health meeting: Summit County and the rest of the state are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“We haven’t reached these numbers since January,” she said, referring to the state’s numbers.
Wineland is singing a different tune compared to a couple of weeks ago: At that point, she reported that the county was experiencing a downward trend of cases. During an Oct. 5 board of health meeting, she reported that the county’s incidence rate was 171 cases per 100,000 people for the past 28 days. Now, the county’s incidence rate is up slightly to 193 cases per 100,000 people for the past 28 days.
During the Oct. 5 meeting, Wineland reported that hospitals in other counties were seeing an increased demand for ICU beds, and though St. Anthony Summit Hospital isn’t among them, she pointed out it could be impacted since it’s part of the overall Centura Health network.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment and Wineland’s presentation, every county in the state other than Gilpin has a very high incidence rate, which is qualified as more than 100 cases per 100,000 people. Some are taking steps to curb this trend: Larimer County recently reinstated a mask requirement indoors.
Making up the highest number of cases are individuals ages 17 and younger.
“Across the state, we are seeing an increase in pediatric cases,” Wineland said. “Both 6- to 11-year-olds as well as 12- to 17-year-old case incidence (rates) are higher than all adult cases across the state. The 0 to (5-year-old) cases are beginning to be under adult cases, but that is a concern across the state.”
Wineland noted that school districts have enrolled in the state’s testing program, which could account for this increase in case numbers. Summit School District is working on ironing out logistics to roll the testing program out.
Wineland also reported that Centura will now be offering testing through its High Country Healthcare Clinics around the county.
While the rest of the state attempts to wrangle the spread of the delta variant — which Wineland credited to the most recent spread — Summit County seems to be fairing a bit better. One large contributing factor continues to be Summit’s high vaccination rate, Wineland said. According to the county’s website, nearly 84% of the population is fully vaccinated, and nearly 93% have received at least one dose.
Locally, St. Anthony Summit Hospital’s capacity is doing well, too.
“When we look at regional emergency ICU bed capacity, it’s looking great for our central mountain region right now with 57% available,” Wineland reported. “What is concerning though, is that in the metro area and surrounding regions … several hospitals are going on diversion at this point.”
Wineland explained that what’s happening in surrounding areas can impact Summit County in that patients who need acute care might be diverted if those health facilities are reaching capacity.
“(This) might also mean that our hospital could be impacted because we do and are able to transfer a lot of our patients — not just COVID patients, but anyone who needs that high-level of care — … to the Denver metro area because we are part of that larger system,” she said.
Summit County Manager Scott Vargo asked Wineland whether hospitals were starting to turn patients away due to surge capacity, to which she said, “no.”
To keep the virus at bay, Wineland outlined some steps her department is taking. One of those is placing an order for a vaccine for children ages 5-11 in anticipation of one being approved within the next month or so. According to 2019 census data, Wineland said she estimates there are about 3,000 children that could become eligible for the vaccine once approved.
Her department is also partnering with local ski resorts, including Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Copper Mountain Resort, to get employees vaccinated before the start of the season.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved boosters for the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines, meaning eligible populations, including those who are immunocompromised, who initially received these brands can get those doses. Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue pointed out that there are some discrepancies between the Colorado Department of Public Health’s website and the county’s website for who is eligible for booster doses. Wineland said she’d work to make sure these match up in the near future.
All of these steps taken by the county are in advance of the holidays and upcoming winter, when seasonal workers are relocating to the county and when residents travel or host loved ones for celebrations. Wineland recommended that community members who plan to host gatherings encourage their visitors to wear masks and get vaccinated beforehand.
“Certainly bad news around the state, but we’ll just keep encouraging vaccinations here because it’s so important, especially as we have folks getting back into the indoor business and ski times and new employees moving in,” Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. “That’s really important to get those folks vaccinated, as well.”
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