Cases of COVID-19 in the Roaring Fork Valley are on the rise, and many of the new infections are in young people. Health and government officials say the uptick in cases among those under 30 could be a harbinger of increased hospitalizations and halt the rollout of reopening plans.
Catherine Bernard, Aspen Valley Hospital’s president of medical staff, said young people with COVID-19 often don’t get as sick as older patients, but could serve as a “warning sign.”
“Younger people getting sick, maybe without even symptoms, the increased positivity of tests that we’re doing – that worries us for what’s going to happen in 2-4 weeks,” she said.
In Pitkin County, 11 cases have been found in people between the ages of 20-29. The average number of new cases per week has risen over the past month, which Bernard said is not singularly connected with an increase in testing.
“We are expecting that this age group may increase in case counts if it follows the national trend,” said Josh Vance, Pitkin County epidemiologist.
Pitkin and Garfield counties have some of Colorado’s highest rates of increase for total new cases reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Between June 16 and June 24, Pitkin saw a 21% increase and Garfield County saw a 27% increase.
Garfield County has also seen a steady increase in new cases per week since early April. 20-29 year-olds account for the largest portion of total cases, comprising 21% of the county’s 259 COVID-19 cases.
In Eagle County, 20-29 year olds account for 16% of all cases. Earlier this week, county officials announced a “cluster” of cases among young people in the Roaring Fork Valley that resulted in 11 new positives.
Some of the 11 positive COVID-19 cases in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County are refusing to isolate and work with contact tracers. Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s communications director, said contact tracing efforts are not to shame those who test positive, but to make sure the virus does not spread throughout the community.
“Contact tracing is really to protect your family, your friends, your loved ones, your coworkers,” Widlak said. “We want them to know that they have a possible exposure so that they can take those protective measures as well.”
She said as the rate of young people contracting the coronavirus increases, it is important for teens and young adults to continue to wear face masks and social distance. Widlak said they may not show serious symptoms if they test positive, but they can still transmit the virus to a more vulnerable person.
“The more people who have tested positive or have been exposed can think about the people around them, it might help with the mindset of why it's so important to help public health,” she said.
Carrie Godes, Garfield County Public Health’s information officer, said they are having a hard time contact tracing fast enough to proactively slow the spread of the virus. When people test positive for COVID-19, she said they need to be prepared to recall all the places they went and people they have seen in the last couple weeks.
“It's tough to remember...but that is an absolutely critical component in containing any further spread because it is so contagious and it's so easy to take it and pass it on,” Godes said.
Garfield County’s 44 new COVID-19 cases could put their relaxed public health orders in jeopardy. If the county sees 60 new cases in any two-week period, they may not be able to move into the state’s next phase of Protect Our Neighbors, slated to go into effect in July.
Godes said the possibility of not moving forward with more lenient public health orders and the risk of closing down restaurants and retail stores again should be a wake-up call for residents.
“I think for a lot of people, they feel like coronavirus is over in our community,” she said. “They want to move past, and believe me, we all want to move beyond this, but the reality, unfortunately, is it's still very much with us.”
Young people and those who are comfortable seeing friends and family can do so, but Godes said it is important to wear face masks and keep six feet apart. If you do find out you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, she said, work with contact tracers and public health officials and quarantine for 14 days.