Summit County officials discuss visitor COVID-19 data and ski area guidance at town hall

A snowboarder catches some air while riding at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on May 27. Ski areas will have to submit a reopening plan for approval to the Summit County Public Health Department before the winter season begins.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

KEYSTONE — Of the positive novel coronavirus tests administered by Centura Health, over half are among visitors. 

Aaron Parmet, infection prevention manager at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, presented on visitor data at a town hall meeting Thursday, Sept. 10. Since mid-June, about 55% of the positive tests results were among out-of-county visitors, Parmet said. 

While they make up the majority of positive tests, visitors haven’t severely impacted case numbers among Summit County residents. 

“You don’t see the out-of-county infections necessarily driving a huge spike in our local county population,” Parmet said. “I think that speaks to good precautions taken by our community as prescribed by public health and the natural segregation of out-of-county visitors.”

As of Sept. 7, the 14-day testing positivity rate is at 2.3%, according to the county’s case data page. In addition to a low positivity rate, the hospital has never been at capacity, Parmet said. 

Parmet also provided more information on how the visitor data is collected. For Summit County officials, Centura’s data is the only window into how visitors are impacting the spread of the virus in the county. 

When a visitor tests positive in Summit County, the result is sent to the visitor’s county of residence rather than Summit County’s public health department. 

“That makes great sense in most of the nation, but we know we have a lot of folks from out of county here,” Parmet said. 

Around 55% of the positive tests collected at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center are among out-of-county visitors.
Screenshot from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center presentation on visitor testing data

Parmet said that while Summit County doesn’t have access to that data, Centura does. However, the data Centura collects only includes those who decide to get tested in Summit County. There’s no way to know if a person who visited the county later tested positive in another state. 

Visitors are not counted among Summit County’s 368 COVID-19 cases.

Parmet also presented on updates at the hospital. On Monday, Sept. 14, the hospital will start using thermal sensors that can tell whether a person has a fever when they walk in the door. The hospital also has started using a sterilization robot, which disinfects rooms using ultraviolet radiation to kill the virus and other pathogens, Parmet said. 

“Preparation has paid off for us, and we’re ready for the future,” he said.

Ski season updates

As winter rapidly approaches, Summit County officials are continuing to have conversations with ski area and state leaders about the upcoming ski season. 

At Thursday’s town hall, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said one thing is especially important to note:

“We will have a ski season,” she said. 

In a recent meeting, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment representatives informed county public health directors that ski areas will be required to work with local public health agencies in their reopening plans, Wineland said. The plans will then go to the state for approval.

Wineland said the state is creating a small group of commissioners and health department directors to look at the plans and create statewide guidance informed by those plans. As of now, the state has no intention of placing a capacity requirement on the ski areas. 

“They understand that ski resorts are unique,” she said. “They have hundreds of thousands of acres where skiers can disperse and have that physical distancing. But of course what is a concern for all of us are those pinch points: the transportation, the lift lines, the indoor activities, the restaurants, retail, rentals.”

Wineland said Summit County officials are working closely with Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which has submitted an initial plan to the county, as well as Copper Mountain Resort. Wineland said the county anticipates having Copper Mountain’s plan soon. 

The county is also working to establish relationships with all other businesses in the county that are directly impacted by the ski season so that communication is swift when visitors come to the area. 

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