Significantly more COVID-19 testing and contact tracing are needed locally as the county, state and nation continue to experience an uptick in cases, members of the Pitkin County Board of Health said Thursday during their twice-monthly meeting.
Josh Vance, an epidemiologist on the county’s COVID-19 response team, presented concerning data Thursday, including the fact that community spread increased from 10% on Oct. 1 to 31% as of Oct. 14.
“When we speak with someone and they say, ‘I have no idea where I got COVID from,’ we count those as community spread,” Vance said. “It’s an important indicator for us to consider because when we have high levels of community spread that tells us that there are probably cases out in the community that we’re not aware of and so it tells us that there is probably more infection than we know about.”
Vance said the county was working toward bringing that community spread percentage down to 10% to 15%.
As of Thursday afternoon, the county was investigating five separate outbreaks, which is the most at any one time yet, a spokesperson said. According to the data presented at the meeting, 1,219 tests had been conducted on Pitkin County residents between Sept. 14 and Oct. 13.
Gearing up for winter
According to Pitkin County Acting Public Health Director Suzuho Shimasaki, in order to meet the Colorado Department of Public Health’s level 3 “Protect Our Neighbors” phase, the county would need 22,000 COVID-19 tests annually. Less stringent than the state’s level 1 “Stay at Home” phase and its level two “Safer at Home” guidelines, the state’s “Protect Our Neighbors” designation requires 150 tests for every 100,000 individuals.
“It’s our local Pitkin County resident population plus our average or anticipated volume of travelers coming in,” Shimasaki explained during a media briefing. “As well as local or regional commuters coming in and out of Pitkin County and second homeowners.” The county’s population is just under 18,000, but during the winter season those resident numbers balloon.
“We know that that’s not a fair representation of the population that’s here on a daily basis,” said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock. “We mapped out, really by month, what we thought those populations would be and how many tests by month we need to ... get to that 150 per 100,000 population.”
On Wednesday, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners passed an emergency resolution authorizing the county to hire additional public health personnel, specifically a testing and vaccine analyst along with a case investigator, or contact tracer. That was followed by an announcement yesterday during the health board meeting that another testing site will open soon in Basalt and it would offer drive-up testing outside the facility. It wasn’t immediately clear when this new site would open.