With COVID-19 cases on the rise, Summit County officials brainstorm ways to improve compliance
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the most recent COVID-19 case data published by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education.
Although COVID-19 cases across Colorado are on the decline, the opposite trend is happening in Summit County and other resort communities.
As of Wednesday, Jan. 27, the state’s two-week cumulative incidence rate was 384.6 new cases per 100,000 people, a number that has been steadily declining since the state saw a bump in cases in mid-January.
In comparison, Summit County’s two-week incidence rate as of 4 p.m. Wednesday was at 823, which has slowly increased from a low of around 500 new cases per 100,000 people at the beginning of January, according to the state’s COVID-19 dial dashboard.
The trend has been happening in resort communities across the state. Both Pitkin and Routt counties are reporting incidence rates above 1,000 new cases per 100,000 people, with Pitkin’s rate of 1,363 new cases causing them to be the only county in the state under level red restrictions.
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At a Summit County Board of Health meeting Tuesday, Jan. 26, Public Health Director Amy Wineland said local officials will be meeting with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to look at more data in the resort region and come up with possible explanations for the increase in cases.
However, Wineland said an overall trend of people letting their guards down and not wearing masks when gathering has been leading to the majority of cases in Summit County.
“We’re absolutely seeing a lot more outbreaks and cases associated with our ski resort employees, employee housing and workspaces at the ski resort,” she said. “We also see a lot of gatherings that are occurring in our community that are leading to some outbreaks.”
Wineland added that even with the two-household gathering limit under level orange restrictions, people should be wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart and checking to see if anyone has symptoms before and during gatherings.
“What we’re seeing with those gatherings is that people are putting their guard down,” she said. “We know that you can’t eat and drink with a mask on, but when you’re not eating and drinking, and you are together with other households, it’s really important for you to continue that mask-wearing as well as physical distancing from each other.”
Wineland said the county’s contact-tracing team has also seen instances of people who felt ill but didn’t think it was the virus and gathered with others. She said people with even mild symptoms — which includes a scratchy throat, runny nose, cough, headache and more — should get tested.
With the reminder for people to wear masks and social distance, officials shared their own frustration and fatigue with the seemingly endless pandemic.
“We do know that things that are most effective are not gathering, wearing your mask and staying separate from other people,” County Manager Scott Vargo said. “The challenge is people are tired. We’re tired. We’re tired of saying it, and people are tired of doing it. It’s been a long time since we were able to behave and act normally. It’s just hard for people to continue to embrace or continue to adhere to.”
Vargo added that he has felt frustrated with the constant necessary adherence to the rules.
“I come to the office once or twice a week, and I came in today, and I said, ’Nobody’s eating lunch with me. I’m tired of just seeing my family. Somebody else come join me for lunch. We’ll be separate. We’ll wear masks. We’ll be distanced. We’ll open the windows,’” he said. “It’s hard on people to follow all those rules all the time, and we get that, and we understand that, but if we want to get through this and we want our numbers to come back to a level where we could reopen things to a greater degree, we have to follow those rules.”
Vargo and Commissioner Tamara Pogue both shared a desire to give incentives for locals to follow the COVID-19 guidelines. Pogue suggested providing low-cost outdoor activities just for locals, including lodging and short-term companies in a program similar to the 5 Star Business Certification Program and finding ways to provide rapid testing to workers throughout the community.
“I think there is a certain amount of fatigue and frustration in our community, so adding some new strategies to the tool box might help us have a little bit bigger of a dent than we’re seeing at the moment in the positivity rates,” Pogue said.
Vargo said the county is looking into local incentive programs that push people to do outdoor activities rather than spending time with friends indoors.
Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence also suggested the county push the state to give more of an indication about what restrictions might look like over the summer.
“Frankly, I feel like the state on a lot of this has been making decisions last minute,” she said. “For us, we’re in such a seasonal location, and timing and seasons really matter. How can we get ahead of it?”
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