One new positive COVID-19 case has been confirmed by the Pitkin County Incident Management Team, alongside four negative results, according to a team release.
That puts the number of negative tests at 17, though there is some discrepancy between the local and state reporting regarding the number of confirmed positive cases in Pitkin County.
“Here’s a breakdown of the trackable cases. This is not to say this is every case in Pitkin County, but these are literally the best numbers that we have right this moment,” the release states. “There are four new negative and one new positive result in Pitkin County today, so we are at 17 negative and 14 positive. There is a discussion on the state level of removing two of these reasons to be understood later.”
Those two cases — which were announced during a community meeting broadcast online and through GrassrootsTV on Monday — brought the total number of cases from 11 to 13. By that count, the total number of cases in Pitkin County is now 14.
But those two cases were not confirmed through testing, Aspen Police Department assistant chief and IMT public information officer Bill Linn confirmed Wednesday, which creates the discrepancy. As of Wednesday evening, even with the report of the new positive case, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was still reporting 11 cases in Pitkin County.
“Those two were not the result of actual testing; they were a conclusion — an extrapolation, if you will — from the evidence from those cases and the contact they had with other people involved in all of this,” he said. “At a certain point over the last couple of days, [CDPHE] decided that was causing some confusion in the numbers because most of the numbers were test results, and those two were extrapolations.”
That doesn’t mean those two cases weren’t in fact COVID-19, Linn continued. But with limited testing capacities locally, the public health directive has been to shift from containment to mitigation and social distancing. The only patients receiving tests locally are those who are presenting severe enough symptoms to require hospitalization and even then, only at a physician’s discretion.
Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms or respiratory duress should self quarantine for 14 days, officials have reiterated since a group of traveling Australians became the first confirmed cases in the area.
One of the top priorities among IMT authorities is avoiding an “explosive” surge in hospitalizations that would overwhelm the health care infrastructure, Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann has said. Social distancing is a key tactic in ensuring that.
As of Wednesday, Aspen Valley Hospital was down 25 staff members, all whom “are self-monitoring at home and in isolation due to symptoms that range from mild to moderate,” the hospital’s chief executive marketing officer, Jennifer Slaughter, said in an email. “Not all symptoms are consistent with COVID-19, however, and we normally ask employees with any suspected contagious illness to remain at home. A handful have completed self-monitoring and are now returned to work following the guidance from our employee health practitioner.”
In Glenwood Springs, Valley View Hospital has collected 22 specimens from patients for state testing. Of those, one came back positive, seven negative and the remaining results are pending, Chief Medical Officer David Brooks said in a press briefing Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, the testing options have remained somewhat limited and turnaround time has been upward of four or five days,” he said.
The state health department is reporting two confirmed cases in Garfield County, where Valley View Hospital is located. Neighboring Eagle County remains the second most concentrated cluster of confirmed cases, now at 39 and is updated daily. In Telluride, 100 San Miguel residents were selected Tuesday for testing at a temporary facility established by a National Guard Civil Support team, according to the Telluride Daily Planet.
A testing facility had been set up at the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department in Aspen Village last week before operations were suspended the same day, but the public COVID-19 information hotline, (970) 429-6186, remains active.
Aspen local Liz Iacullo volunteered to help answer calls to the hotline Tuesday. In a six-hour shift, she spoke to many, many people concerned about symptoms, she said.
“I feel like people read 13 confirmed cases in the county, but I spent six hours yesterday talking to sick people on the phone,” she said. “There are so many sick people. I talked to a lot of people who have never seen a doctor, but they have symptoms.”
Iacullo said she plans to volunteer for the hotline again, as she felt she was able to at least calm some people’s fears.
When asked how many people have utilized the hotline, Linn said he’d been informed that “we haven’t been tracking that.”
With limited testing availability and not tracking hotline calls, Koenemann acknowledged in the community meeting Monday the importance of creating some kind of epidemiological record of COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County. During that meeting, she suggested a potential public document on which people could self report symptoms as presumptive positive cases.
On Tuesday, Linn said that any kind of self-reporting strategy would have to be screened in some professional capacity, and the county would not be rolling out such a document without putting a lot of thought into its execution.
“I know we are not rushing into this self reporting because there are risks to it, especially if it’s just uncontrolled. If it’s just out there and anybody can log in and self report — not that someone would intentionally want to be deceptive — there’s no quality control involved,” he said. “We had to tease that out a little bit that it was under discussion, and I think it takes a little more forethought to decide what the value is in and how exactly to do it that makes it useful information.”
In a press address last week, Gov. Jared Polis said that 90 percent of COVID-19 tests in Colorado had returned negative results. Still, better to be safe than sorry, every state and local official agrees.
Statewide, CDPHE has recorded 216 positive cases across 20 counties of 2,328 people tested, of which 26 have resulted in hospitalization and two deaths.
Editor's note: An original version of this story incorrectly reported the number of counties with recorded positive COVID-19 cases.