Summit County reflects on a year since its 1st case of COVID-19 |

Summit County reflects on a year since its 1st case of COVID-19

A group of people walk down Main Street in Breckenridge while wearing masks on a snowy evening Thursday, March 4. Friday, March 5, is the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Colorado, which was at the hospital in Frisco.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s infection prevention manager Aaron Parmet still has his March 6, 2020, copy of the Summit Daily News.

The front page headline on that issue read “Coronavirus confirmed” and was followed by a story about Colorado’s first case of COVID-19 discovered at the hospital in Frisco on March 5, 2020.

While the headline was shocking for most, Parmet and his colleagues had been preparing for that day since the virus was first reported in Wuhan, China.

“We know that Summit County is a premier destination, not just for the country but for the world, and so we thought, ’Well, if this thing comes here, we can be No. 1, so we had to be ready,” he said.

It’s safe to say not a single health care professional or county official will forget the day that the first case was confirmed. Summit County Public Health Nurse Manager Sara Lopez was on a backcountry hut trip when her phone erupted into a flurry of texts from friends and colleagues.

“I said, ’I’m going to have another tequila drink because my life is going to really be difficult when we get off this mountain,’” she said.

When the first case was confirmed, county officials found themselves struggling with a lack of information. At the time, the message from the county and state was to proceed as normal.

Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence remembers shaking hands with state officials and meeting in person to deliver the news at various conferences that day. She never guessed it would be behavior deemed unsafe in our current world.

“That week was definitely the most intense week because everything changed so quickly,” Lawrence said. “We were just desperate to get information. We went from ’continue life as normal’ to, a week later, we’re shutting down the ski resorts.”

When the first case was confirmed, officials weren’t even sure how the virus spread. Many speculated that surfaces were a major factor, with officials encouraging frequent hand-washing and disinfecting of highly touched areas.

It wasn’t until April 27 that Summit County officials implemented a countywide mask ordinance as more news came out about the virus being spread through droplets in the air.

In hindsight, officials on the national level could have made mask-wearing a more prominent message, Lopez said.

“Masks are, in general, very helpful with respiratory diseases,” she said. “In many years past, you walk into a provider’s office, and if you have any flu-like symptoms, you put on a mask. It’s definitely not a new idea. So having that occur earlier would have been helpful.”

At the hospital, officials found themselves responding to the lack of information by assuming nearly every precaution was worth taking, Parmet said. That way of thinking payed off as there have been no cases transmitted at the hospital so far, he said.

Parmet added that science has come a long way in determining how long people are infectious and the best practices for isolating individuals. Originally, everyone who was exposed to the virus had to be quarantined for at least 14 days.

Now, with better testing availability and a better understanding of how the virus spreads, people are able to quarantine for just seven days if they have no symptoms and a negative test taken after Day 5 of their quarantine.

The county also has made great strides with testing availability. In early April, Centura Health was the only option for testing, and people often didn’t receive results until weeks later. Now, people can choose from three community testing sites in the county, most of which have results back within 48 hours.

One of the most significant developments in the past year has to do with the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine, of which there are now three available types. Parmet said he considers the speed at which researchers were able to create the vaccine to be “unbelievable.”

“When you look back and go from identifying this disease to having multiple safe and effective vaccines in a calendar year, that will be remembered as the Apollo program of health care,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable achievement for humanity and science.”

Supply of the vaccine is increasing every day, with President Joe Biden promising that there will be enough doses for every adult in the country by the end of May.

As they look forward, Parmet and Lopez are anxious to see how the variant strains of the virus respond to the vaccine. Much remains unknown about the variants, which are more contagious and sometimes more deadly.

“How are these variants going to affect the spread of the disease, how severe it is, and will the vaccines work against them?” Parmet said. “So far, it’s quite encouraging on the vaccine side.”

Lopez said the messenger RNA technology used to create the COVID-19 vaccines will be helpful in the long run as more variants appear.

“I’m very encouraged that we have this mRNA vaccine platform to fall back on,” she said. “With this mRNA platform, you’re able to isolate the genome of these variants and very quickly pivot into whatever you need. It’s groundbreaking.”

With variant strains circulating and much of the population still waiting to receive their vaccine, officials say it’s important for people to remain committed to prevention measures like wearing masks and avoiding gatherings.

“I know that we’ll be able to pull through this,” Lawrence said. “Certainly, this is far from over, and as we have spring break approaching, it’s really up to us to try and be as diligent as possible.”

COVID-19 timeline

Editor’s note: This timeline has been updated to remove one of the county’s deaths caused by COVID-19. After a review, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined the death was not caused by COVID-19.

March 5

• Colorado’s first case of novel coronavirus confirmed at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco

March 10

• Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declares state of emergency

March 11

• World Health Organization declares COVID-19 a global pandemic

March 13

• Summit Board of County Commissioners declares state of emergency

• Summit School District announces three-week closure

• Colorado High School Activities Association suspends high school sports

March 14

• Vail Resorts announces two-week closure of its North American resorts

• Polis orders one-week closure of all Colorado ski areas

March 16

• Summit County orders all nonessential businesses to close

• Summit County issues stay-at-home order

March 17

• Vail Resorts announces closure of its North American resorts for remainder of season

March 18

• Polis closes schools through mid-April

• Polis extends ski area closure by two weeks

March 22

• Polis issues order to reduce in-person workforce by half at nonessential businesses

March 25

• Polis issues stay-at-home order

April 3

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing face masks

April 17

• Summit School District announces remote learning for remainder of school year

April 25

• Summit County reports first death due to the virus, an 89-year-old man who died from respiratory failure due to COVID-19

April 27

• Polis issues safer-at-home order, easing some restrictions

• Nonessential businesses permitted to reopen with takeout, delivery and curbside pickup

• Summit County implements mask mandate

May 1

• Polis extends ski area closure to May 23

• Summit County asks second-home owners to stay away

• Retail stores, personal service businesses allowed to reopen with limited capacity

May 11

• Child care services permitted to reopen

May 27

• Arapahoe Basin Ski Area reopens

• Public transit services resume at limited capacities

June 1

• Short-term rentals permitted to reopen

June 4

• Health and recreation centers permitted to reopen

June 19

• Bars permitted to reopen

June 30

• Bars closed

July 16

• Polis issues statewide mask mandate

Sept. 15

• State releases dial restrictions system, and Summit County is placed in level yellow

Nov. 6

• Summit County moves backward to level orange

Nov. 9

• Ski season kicks off with limited capacities

Nov. 18

• Summit County reports second death due to the virus, a 71-year-old woman who died from respiratory failure due to COVID-19

Nov. 22

• Summit County moves backward on the dial to level red, closing in-person dining

Nov. 30

• Summit School District moves to fully remote learning

Dec. 7

• Summit County reports third death due to the virus, a 47-year-old man who died from respiratory failure due to COVID-19

Dec. 17

• First vaccines administered to health care workers

• Summit County implements 5 Star State Certification Program for restaurants

Dec. 31

• First vaccines administered to people 70 and older

Jan. 4

• Summit County moves forward on the dial to level orange

Jan. 11

• Summit School District students return to the classroom after nearly seven weeks at home

Feb. 13

• First vaccines administered to educators, child care workers and people 65 and older

Feb. 26

• Summit County moves forward on the dial to level yellow

March 5

• First vaccines administered to essential workers, people 60 and older


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