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Two more new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the unique coronavirus, have been identified in Chaffee County, the third in about a week. This brings the total cases to 70 overall.

Statewide, health experts are warning that lowering levels of physical distancing is predicted to lead to a surge in sick patients “in excess of hospital capacity by mid-summer, even if implemented with mask-wearing, increased case detection and isolation, and higher levels of social distancing by all older adults.”

HRRMC employees process samples taken from a person at an earlier COVID-19 testing session at the hospital. Photo by Dan Smith

Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) Director Andrea Carlstrom said of the two new local cases that patient investigation and contract tracing “has determined very low risk of spread of the virus due to the limited personal contact that they had and the prevention measures they had taken such as wearing masks.”

The two new cases are members of the same household, she reported.

Of the 70 local cases, 53 positive cases were identified among patients and staff in an outbreak at Columbine Manor in Salida, resulting in 16 patient deaths. In all, 18 local people have died from COVID-19.

In Colorado, nearly 23,500 cases have been reported across 60 counties, resulting in more than 1,300 deaths, with more than 1,000 of those directly attributed to COVID-19.

As businesses continue to reopen and public gathering restrictions are gradually relaxed, statewide assessments of the resulting increase in COVID-19 infections underscore some ominous possibilities. Most importantly, a surge in cases could swamp local hospital bed capacity; leaving not enough resources available to treat COVID-19 patients.

The state health assessment has also gone on record that by mid-August, around the dates schools generally open, the curves of the epidemic under all scenarios will rise.

The report further states that under the state’s revised “Safer-at-Home” rules, the uncertainty of the course of the pandemic will diminish in the days ahead; meaning officials may have a better sense of where it is going. Estimates of its trajectory will help in making future decisions about social distancing guidelines.

The State of Colorado approved a Public Health Order Variance for Chaffee County last week, providing relief from some of the provisions related to retail food establishments, places of worship, fitness centers, recreation, outfitters, bowling alleys and outdoor hot springs.

CCPH and Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center are sponsoring another community testing clinic again on Thursday, May 28 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, by appointment only.

Future free testing clinics will be held every Tuesday, beginning June 2, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, also by appointment only.
A press release said the State of Colorado and Chaffee County have further expanded testing capability. The criteria now includes:

  • Any community member (or others who consider Chaffee County their medical home) who is showing symptoms;
  • Any asymptomatic patient who has a known contact with a positive case or has traveled in an area with high rates of transmission;
  • All healthcare workers, all first responders, all senior care facility workers, and all essential workers who directly interact with the public while working, whether or not those individuals have symptoms.

People interested in testing should call Public Health at 719-539-4510 to be screened, approved, and scheduled for testing. Those with severe respiratory symptoms are asked to contact their primary care provider directly. A total of 14 people were tested at HRRMC last week, and all 14 tests were negative.