Summit County following ‘every lead’ in tracing coronavirus patient contacts
Health officials preach calm, patience after COVID-19 emergence
Editor’s note: Summit County officials are now saying that while the patient reported feeling ill while skiing March 2 at Vail Mountain, state officials don’t attribute symptoms to novel coronavirus until new symptoms emerged March 3. Also, health officials clarified that while the transmission of COVID-19 to people from objects or surfaces has not yet been documented, it is still possible.
FRISCO — Community members are understandably concerned after a man tested positive for novel coronavirus in Summit County on Thursday afternoon, the first known case of the disease in Colorado.
As public health officials continue to investigate the case, community leaders are emphasizing that the risk of infection to the general public is relatively low, and that residents and visitors should stay calm.
“I think it’s going to hit every community to some degree,” Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine said. “But if we’re particularly careful with our vulnerable folks, and if we’re all diligent about practicing good hygiene, then I think we’re going to get through this just fine.”
With the local emergence of the disease — known officially as coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19 — public health officials have been hard at work in a process called “contact tracing,” essentially trying to backtrack through the patient’s steps during his time in the area to identify individuals who came in close contact with him and determine whether they might have been exposed to the virus.
According to officials, the patient likely didn’t interact closely with many people after he began showing symptoms. He flew into Denver International Airport from California on Feb. 29 and drove a rental car to Summit County. Throughout his travels, he was asymptomatic and extremely unlikely to have spread the disease, officials said.
He first began showing symptoms of illness including shortness of breath while skiing Monday, March 2, at Vail, according to Dan Hendershott, Summit County’s environmental health manager. Though, state officials don’t believe he showed COVID-19 symptoms until he developed new symptoms Tuesday, March 3, according to Julie Sutor, Summit County’s director of communications. He stayed inside his room at Slopeside Condominiums in Keystone all day Tuesday.
On Wednesday, March 4, he was informed that a travel companion with whom he recently went to Italy had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and he reached out directly to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to inform them he might have contracted the disease.
He checked into St. Anthony Summit Medical Center later that day and was diagnosed Thursday, March 5. County officials have since lauded the man for taking steps to mitigate the potential spread of the illness.
“In contacting the health department, he really went above and beyond what you’d normally expect,” Vaine said. “He found out his companion got a positive result, and he was alarmed. I think he was more conscientious and proactive than most of us would be. … I hate the fact that he’s getting a bad rap. He did every single thing right.”
Feb. 29: Patient flies from California into Denver International Airport, takes rental car to Summit County
March 2: Patient reports feeling queasy and short of breath while skiing at Vail
March 3: COVID-19 symptoms emerge, patient stays inside condominium all day
March 4: Patient is informed a travel companion tested positive for COVID-19, contacts the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, admitted to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center
March 5: Patient tests positive for COVID-19 through a state test, is taken to Jefferson County to recover in isolation
Source: Summit County government
He was driven down to the Front Range by his fiancee, and he is currently recovering in isolation. His fiancee and two Denver friends with whom he was staying in Summit County have all been quarantined, as well.
Summit County officials have since had the opportunity to speak with the man directly and are confident they’ve been able to track down any other individuals who might have had prolonged exposure to the man — mostly property management employees taking care of the condo.
“We were able to use geographic information systems to determine the owner of the condo,” Vaine said. “We called that person and woke them up in the middle of the night to figure out who the property management company was. We called the company and got in touch with the (company) owner who was able to tell us exactly what time they checked in, who checked in, what time they checked out, any maintenance people who went into the unit — they had all that information. …
“We were able to interview the woman who cleaned the condo extensively about the protocol she used, the products she used, the manner in which she cleaned all the rooms, what she did with the linens and all those things. … I think we’ve contacted people we probably didn’t even need to just to be overly cautious. I think we’ve followed every lead available to us.”
Vaine noted that officials don’t believe any of the individuals who were contacted have been infected, and none of them have been quarantined or asked to make changes to their daily routines. Individuals who were contacted also had the opportunity to speak in person with public health officials, ask questions and work through any concerns.
“Everyone was very cooperative,” Vaine said.
Likewise, officials are saying it’s unlikely others in the condo complex are at a heightened risk of infection. After the man left, nobody else entered the unit for about 23 hours, and nobody has rented the unit since.
“While they followed their cleaning procedures, we’re being extra diligent and asking them to clean again to the standards outlined to us by the CDC,” Hendershott said. “We’re asking them not to rent the room until those cleaning procedures have been verified. We don’t feel like there’s any exposure to additional guests related to this condo.”
Hendershott also responded to community concerns about where else the man might have traveled while in the area, noting that members of the public shouldn’t be concerned unless they had prolonged and close contact with the man.
“The information we have available now on COVID-19 transmission does not suggest that it’s transmitted via fomite exposure,” Hendershott said. “Those are things like touching doorknobs or the gas pump, sharing a room key or pushing a button on an elevator. That’s really not how we’re seeing it transmitted.”
Hendershott later emphasized via email that while the transmission of COVID-19 to people from objects or surfaces has not been documented, experts believe it is possible. He said officials recommend frequent cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.
While officials have taken proactive steps to stop the spread of the new coronavirus in Summit County, it’s unclear how exactly its emergence will affect the community. For now, officials are asking the public to remain calm.
“This is just the beginning,” Vaine said. “I think communities across the country will probably have (COVID-19) impact them in some way. And it’s going to take some time for us to see what the real impact is. But people need to be patient and calm and follow the directions of the CDC and our local public health department.”
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