Summit County officials will wait to apply for the protect-our-neighbors phase of reopening |

Summit County officials will wait to apply for the protect-our-neighbors phase of reopening

Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland speaks at a press conference March 5 at the County Commons building in Frisco. Wineland and her team are preparing for an eventual application for the protect-our-neighbors phase of reopening.
Liz Copan / Summit Daily News

FRISCO — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released the application for the protect-our-neighbors phase of reopening Tuesday, July 7, but Summit County officials are holding off on applying until the county’s case data has improved.

Under the protect-our-neighbors phase, anything can open at 50% capacity or with a maximum of 500 people as long as groups are 6 feet apart. Unlike the previous stay-at-home and safer-at-home phases, the new phase requires counties to apply for reopening individually or combined with another county to form a region.

Whether Summit County would apply alone or as a region hasn’t been decided, said Nicole Valentine, public affairs coordinator for public health. The county plans to wait until three weeks pass after the Fourth of July holiday to reassess and decide whether to apply.

“At that point, we can take a look and see if it makes sense to apply for the protect-our-neighbors phase,” Valentine said. “In order to do that, we would need to see our positivity rates dropping. At the current moment, our rates are increasing, unfortunately.”

While the county is currently reporting a positive rate of tests at about 3%, it has seen an uptick in recent weeks, according to data on the county’s coronavirus webpage. Valentine said the county’s small population means just a few cases could increase the positivity rates.

The positivity of COVID-19 testing of Summit County residents.
Courtesy Summit County

Once Public Health Director Amy Wineland decides the county is in the right place to apply for the next phase, officials will have to go through an extensive process involving nearly all facets of the community.

In addition to increasing event capacity, the new phase also would allow for bars, hookah lounges, cigar bars and businesses with cannabis social use licenses to operate — all of which are currently closed under the state’s safer-at-home order.

Summit County officials aren’t quite ready to move into the new phase, but that hasn’t stopped them from planning.

Wineland and her team are already working with members of the community to develop a containment and mitigation plan, which is one of the two steps in the application process. The plan outlines what the county would do if cases and hospitalizations start to rise after moving into the next phase.

“We want to have all of our ducks in a row and be set and ready so that as soon as we feel that the county is meeting the metrics and we are ready to apply, we can do so,” Valentine said.

The county also must prove its certification to move into the phase. Once the county applies, the state will evaluate data from the 14 days prior to the application using a set of eight metrics, according to the state’s certification guide.

  • Local hospitals must have sufficient bed capacity to manage a 20% surge in hospital admissions or patient transfers.
  • Hospitals must also have two weeks of personal protective equipment available.
  • The number of hospitalizations due to the virus has to be stable — a less than 25% increase — or declining in the 14 days prior to the application date compared with the previous 14-day period. Otherwise, the county will have to prove no more than two hospital admissions of residents due to the virus occurred in a single day in the prior 14 days.
  • The county will have to prove it has seen fewer cases of the virus in one of three ways:
    • Prove that are 25 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people in the 14 days before the application.
    • For counties with less than 30,000 people, prove there have been no more than seven additional cases in a two-week period.
    • The molecular test positivity rate is less than 5%, the county is testing a minimum of 0.75 per 1,000 people and a two-week cumulative incidence is no greater than 50 cases per 100,000 people.
  • The county has to be able to test 15 people per 10,000 residents per day.
  • The county’s public health department has to be able to successfully implement contact tracing protocol for 85% of cases within 24 hours.
  • The county has to be able to investigate and contact trace up to 8.7 cases per 100,000 people per day.
  • The county has to have documented strategies in place to offer testing to close contacts in outbreak situations.

In addition to the eight metrics, the county must include letters of support from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Public Health Director Amy Wineland, county commissioners, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, all local police departments, all town mayors and all emergency managers in the county.

Since March 5, when the first case of the virus was confirmed in Summit County, 50 people have been hospitalized with severe COVID-19-like symptoms. The Frisco hospital never has filled all eight intensive-care unit beds during the course of the pandemic, according to data from the county’s coronavirus webpage.

“St. Anthony Summit Medical Center continues to have sufficient capacity and (personal protective equipment) supply to safely and effectively care for our community,” hospital spokesperson Brent Boyer wrote in an email. “We also continue to work closely with our partners at Summit County Public Health as well as our greater Centura Health system to monitor COVID-19 trends here and across the state.”

If the county is eventually approved to move into the new phase, it likely won’t open everything at 50% immediately, Valentine said.

“We would slowly bump up our numbers and take a look at what that does,” she said. “We’re not going to just bust the doors wide open. We are going to move slowly and cautiously into that phase.”

Both Valentine and Boyer emphasized the importance of following public health guidelines, which will help move the county closer to the new phase.

“If you want to keep the economy going, if you want to keep the stock market up, if you want to keep each other safe, wear the face mask,” Valentine said.

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