Colorado currently has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, but Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said officials are taking precautions should the illness arrive in the area.
“We really do believe it's not if, it's when, we will have cases in Colorado,” Koenemann said. “We may have cases in Pitkin County. And so I think just being aware and being prepared for that is where we're at right now.”
The county is activating its “pandemic flu plan” as a cautionary measure. The plan was developed many years ago for viral situations like this one and contains “tools and protocols to assess potential exposures and ill people and implement disease control measures,” according to a release from the county.
The World Health Organization has yet classify COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as a pandemic.
Koenemann said the county has met with the Aspen School District, Roaring Fork Transit Authority, Aspen Skiing Company, Aspen Valley Hospital and other healthcare providers to discuss their preparedness.
County health officials also shared a list of tips for residents to minimize potential for exposure.
“Washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds is really valuable,” Koenemann said. “That's basic practice that we take for granted, but it's probably one of the best things you can do to prevent the spread of illness.”
Officials also recommend staying home from work in the event of respiratory disease symptoms, covering coughs and sneezes and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.
Koenemann added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not recommending the use of masks for the general public, as they do not effectively protect against the inhalation of airborne particles and would be better used by hospital workers and first responders.
“We need those for the front lines folks that might be interacting with a positive case,” Koenneman said, “wo we don't want to disrupt the availability.”
Koenemann said officials in Pitkin County are keeping a close eye on the latest information from national and state health authorities, but the county needs to bolster its own healthcare infrastructure should widespread instances of COVID-19 tax other resources nearby.
“We need to be ready and have what we need locally because our partners may be strapped as well, or stretched, and we may see the healthcare system had that same impact.”