Summit County public health officials cautious about moving into next phase of reopening despite promising COVID-19 data
BRECKENRIDGE — With the reopening of schools and preparations for ski season on the mind, Summit County officials are holding off on moving into the protect-our-neighbors phase of response to the pandemic.
At a Summit County Board of Health meeting Tuesday, Aug. 11, Public Health Director Amy Wineland presented on the county’s current progress in mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus. Right now, the county is falling short in only one of the five metrics required to move into the next phase of reopening, which allows all activities to occur at 50% capacity or up to 500 people.
The county remains in the safer-at-home phase of reopening, which allows gatherings of up to 175 people. In order to move into the protect-our-neighbors phase, Wineland and her team would have to apply using a variety of metrics as evidence of the county’s containment of the virus.
The county’s current testing rate has fallen below the threshold required by the state, according to the county’s coronavirus webpage. In order to apply for the next phase, the testing rate must be at or above 0.75 per 1,000 population, which is equal to about 23 tests per day. Currently, the county’s seven-day average for testing is at 0.36 per 1,000 people, and the number of people tested per day has not been at or above the state’s threshold since Aug. 1.
Wineland said the reason for the recent drop in testing has to do with changing testing requirements. After noticing an influx of visitors and people who were receiving tests when they didn’t need them, the county changed testing requirements to include only those who are experiencing symptoms of the virus or have been exposed to the virus.
“We had a dip over the last couple of weeks because of some changes in criteria,” Wineland said. “We’re working on that right now to resolve that with our partners. So hopefully we’ll have that solution by the end of the week.”
Wineland said the county won’t be applying for the protect-our-neighbors phase until it’s meeting the milestones outlined by the state. It’s currently meeting the threshold for hospital occupancy and capacity, hospital admissions and the testing positivity rate.
Until recently, the county had not been meeting the threshold for the positivity rate, or the number of cases per 100,000. The state requires counties to have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people. On Aug. 7, that number fell below 50 and is now hovering at 45.2.
Although it is in a good spot, Wineland recommended the county not apply for the next phase until the full impact of opening schools is reflected in the case numbers.
“There’s no way that we can 100% prevent outbreaks in the schools,” she said. “This will be a big step for our community to really see how that’s going to impact our numbers of disease spread.”
Another major concern on county officials’ minds is the reopening of ski areas. The county has been pushing the state to release guidance for the resorts as the winter season quickly approaches.
While visitors make up the majority of positive tests in the county, they haven’t had a large impact on the number of cases in residents. That could change with the opening of ski areas, Wineland said.
“We also don’t have a lot of events or congregating of visitors and residents together because we don’t have large events happening right now,” she said. “Once ski resorts open, we will have more intermingling of visitors and residents.”
County Manager Scott Vargo said he is hopeful state guidance for the ski areas will be released next week. In the meantime, county officials are meeting with local ski area CEOs to discuss everything from lift lines to potential reservation systems for passholders.
“(Skiing) touches so many other tangential parts of our economy and our community’s livelihood that it’s a really important function to be able to manage,” he said. “It will definitely be another challenging balancing act for us.”
Commissioner Thomas Davidson said the county should be as flexible as possible when it comes to reopening ski areas.
“The overall philosophy is to be as flexible as we can be while not putting ourselves at huge risk of something going seriously south,” Davidson said.
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