STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO, December 16, 2020 – The Board of Health met today to discuss recent case counts in Routt County and potential downward trends. Public health officials announced that the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the county and that immunizations will start with priority health care workers at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center tomorrow. Public Health expects to get vaccines soon and will immunize priority individuals as designated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE). The Board also discussed the inequity of how the state of Colorado is implementing the COVID-19 dial in different counties and how the commissioners are actively working with the state to address the unfairness to local businesses in Routt County.
According to Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist who also manages the COVID-19 Dashboard, “In the past two weeks, there have been 212 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 99 in the last week. We have not had many visitor cases and hospitalizations remain low. We continue to see a disproportionate number of cases in the 20-39 age range, but we expect that to change as more household spread occurs.”
Routt County Epidemiologist, Dr. Fritha Morrison added, “I am very confident that our cases are stable, but we will see if this is a downward trend.”
When asked about asymptomatic cases, Dr. Morrison said, “We know we are missing some asymptomatic cases. Depending on the study, when surveying a general population, we know the asymptomatic case rate is between 25% and 50%. We consistently have percentages of asymptomatic cases below 25% of all our cases, so we know there are other asymptomatic cases going undetected in our community. It is likely that these asymptomatic cases are the cause of some of the “unknown/community spread” transmission in our community.”
Commissioner Beth Melton added, “Colorado seemed to have avoided a Thanksgiving surge unlike many other states, so whatever we did, it worked and we need to plan to do it again as we head into Christmas.”
Director of Routt County Public Health, Roberta Smith shared news on the COVID-19 vaccine, “It’s been an historic week. We got a COVID-19 vaccine in the state and in the county. This is a momentous event in Colorado public health history. We have never seen a vaccine approved and produced so quickly with great science behind it. It is a ray of sunshine for us. We are focusing our time on getting the vaccine to the priority groups that the state has identified for us. The decisions that are being made on vaccine distribution within the county will be directed by the state. “
County Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Harrington shared a story about his mom and polio. “I have talked with my mother about her memories of polio in the 1940s and 1950s. She grew up on a ranch in South Dakota. She remembers “polio summers” where she could not go into town or mingle with others. She remembers quarantines and mitigation measures not unlike what we have going on currently. Polio peaked in the US in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1952 there were 57,628 infection cases, 3,145 deaths, and 21, 269 cases of paralysis. The first vaccine by Salk came out in 1955. By the 1960s, we were down to less than 100 cases per year, and by the 1970s less than 10 cases per year. The last case of polio acquired in the U.S. was in 1979. There have been isolated cases since then, but they came from other countries. Thanks to work by organizations such as Rotary and the Gates Foundation, polio now is only found in three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.”
“One of my mother’s clearest memories about getting the polio vaccination was that “the fear of getting polio was over.” She does not even remember the details of getting the vaccine. Rather, her primary memory is an emotional one. The lens of our memory often illuminates those moments that shined the brightest. Associated emotions have been shown to increase the likelihood that a memory can be recalled later. This is one such shining moment that we will remember throughout our lives. The beginning of vaccinations this week is a moment of sunshine in what has been a dark COVID-19 year in so many ways for so many people. Similar to my mother’s memory of the first polio vaccine in 1955, the COVID-19 vaccine can now start to lift our fear of the disease, and to lift our fear of its impact on our social and economic life.”
CDPHE has developed a recipient priority list for vaccines that can be found here.
Ms. Smith explained that vaccines for the general public will probably not be until the late spring or summer. Public Health expects to get shipments of vaccines every week. She also said that it is still not clear if the people who have gotten the vaccine can still spread COVID-19, therefore it will be important to continue doing what we know works like wearing masks, washing hands and keeping physically distant. She also said that the FDA is reviewing emergency authorization for the Moderna vaccine this week.
Ms. Smith said CDPHE just updated their quarantine guidelines based on the CDC’s newest recommendations that should change how quarantines are handled in schools. She expects the CDPHE guidance for outbreaks and to update its recommendations soon.
State COVID-19 dial
The Commissioners shared their frustration with public health staff on why CDPHE has allowed some counties to continue at Level Orange while their numbers are clearly in the red and discussed these concerns with public health staff. Originally, when CDPHE moved Routt County to Level Red, their letter stated they would re-evaluate Routt County’s status on December 18th. Level Orange would require 89 cases or below for two weeks for Routt County’s population.
Tim Corrigan, Chair of the Routt County Commissioners said, “When constituents contact me and show me how other counties with higher case counts are in Level Orange, I have no way of explaining why this is the case, why some counties can operate. The frustration is reaching a boiling point. Out of fairness to our business community, we should be treated fairly by the state.”
Commissioner Doug Monger added, “It makes you wonder if the inequity is based on science or is it political.”
Commissioner Beth Melton said, ”I am concerned about the equitable application of state policy. We can see it is clearly not being done. We have an obligation to speak up on the inequity on behalf of businesses in our community”
The Steamboat Pilot is hosting a virtual Town Hall meeting with the Board of Health tomorrow, Thursday, December 17th at 5:30 pm hosted by the Steamboat Pilot. Questions can be submitted to . The forum can be viewed on the Pilot’s webpage and Facebook page.