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Pitkin County Outlines New Plan For Testing And Contact Tracing

Apr 23, 2020

Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann explains the new "box it in" strategy during Thursday's online community meeting.
Credit Screenshot from GrassRoots TV

Pitkin County officials laid out a new plan to find COVID-19 cases and slow the spread of the virus in a virtual community meeting Thursday. Karen Koenemann, the county’s director of public health, outlined the “Box it in” strategy, which will use testing, quarantining, contact tracing and isolation as a means of combating coronavirus. 

To identify positive cases, the county will rely on nasal swab testing administered by Aspen Valley Hospital. Bradley Holmes, a physician at the hospital, said they want to test “anyone with symptoms.” The hospital is still finalizing criteria for who is eligible to be tested, but testing will be expanded to include people with mild symptoms.

Notably, the county will not be using antibody tests, which use a finger prick of blood to find the body’s response to the virus. It purchased 1,000 of those tests from Colorado-based Aytu Bioscience earlier this month. Jon Peacock, Pitkin County manager, said those tests had not been sufficiently vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because they were rapidly authorized on an emergency basis. He said the tests could be used in the county with more rigorous validation, but will not be used until then. In the meantime, the county will focus all of its energy on swab testing with Aspen Valley Hospital.

The county is in the process of hiring "an army" of people to contact trace.

When a person tests positive for COVID-19, the county will issue mandatory or voluntary orders to keep that person from spreading the virus. Then, the county will mount an investigation to identify anyone that person may have been in contact with.

The county is in the process of hiring “an army” of people to contact trace, identifying those who may have been near a person with COVID-19, contacting them and keeping them in quarantine. 

Peacock said that effort will likely last at least 12-18 months, which he called a “reasonable time frame” until a vaccine or effective therapy is found. Due to the expected duration of contact tracing and the volume of new hires, Peacock estimated it will cost the county $1-1.5 million. 

Pitkin County’s current public health order is in place until April 30. Colorado Governor Jared Polis has unveiled plans for a partial scaling-back of some statewide restrictions beginning April 27. Steve Child, Pitkin County Commissioner, said he didn’t know if the county’s order will be extended or changed, but it will be different from the state’s new order.