Coronavirus

Thirteen people showing symptoms of COVID-19 were being tested for the disease on Monday after being in contact with a woman who was the first coronavirus case to be tied to Aspen.

All 13 are part of an Australian tour group visiting Aspen and are under a voluntary self-isolation, representatives of Pitkin County’s incident management team handling the local coronavirus response said at a press briefing held at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

On Sunday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that an Australian woman who was visiting Aspen last week tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home. The woman, 21, had “contact with Aspen residents and visitors at social gatherings,” a news release said.

State officials are leading the investigation into the case and are “continuing to work their way out” in terms of identifying those who may have had contact with the woman, Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County’s director of public health, said during the press briefing, held via conference call.

Of the 18 people who are confirmed contacts — all part of the tour group — 13 were showing COVID-19 symptoms and are being tested. This entails taking mouth and nose swabs and sending those to the state lab. The results typically take 24 hours to turn around, Koenemann said, meaning they would be available on Tuesday. Another press briefing has been scheduled.

 The local officials on the call could not provide information about the dates the woman was in Aspen, where she stayed or what other possible contacts she may have had while in town. They also could not say what her travel history was before coming to Aspen, or how she is believed to have contracted the disease.

“We don’t have the answer to that now,” Koenemann said. 

If community spread is found to be occurring in Aspen, which happens when people come down with cases with no identifiable source, Koenemann said public health officials “would be looking at different kinds of social distancing” recommendations. This could involve canceling school or big events.

Officials are emphasizing the proper channels for people to go through if they are seeking to report symptoms or for general information. Aspen Valley Hospital was “inundated” with calls after a phone number tied to the facility was published in the state of Colorado’s press release Sunday mentioning the Aspen-connected case, officials noted. 

Instead of calling the hospital directly, those who have symptoms of COVID-19 and have traveled to an affected area or had contact with a known patient are asked to call the state health department general epidemiology line at (303) 692-2700. For general questions about coronavirus and proper protocol, call (877) 462-2911. Aspen residents and visitors are asked to sign up for a special Pitkin Alert channel dedicated to coronavirus by texting “CVIRUS” to 888-777. Even those who already receive Pitkin Alert messages need to opt in. 

Local information also can be found at pitkincounty.com/coronavirus and the Pitkin County Public Health Facebook page. The CDPHE also has information on its website.

There are no other cases under investigation in the Aspen area aside from the 13 currently in the testing pipeline, according to officials.

The state lab, which is the only lab in Colorado currently conducting coronavirus tests, has a testing capacity of about 160 per day, Koenemann said. So far, that capacity has not been tested. However, other, private labs are working to get up and running to test for coronavirus in the coming days, she said, should the volume of tests exceed that state lab’s capacity.

The people with cases under investigation are being cooperative, Koenemann said. She described the symptoms observed to date as “mild.” If anyone tests positive, they will be under a mandatory 14-day quarantine. 

Regarding the condition of the 21-year-old woman who tested positive after her trip to Aspen, “they did let us know she is doing much better,” Koenemann said.

 

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.