As people flock back to reopened spaces and local governments unroll plans to resume some components of pre-pandemic life, health officials are keeping a close eye on COVID-19 data.
If people reduce their in-person interactions by 60-65%, healthcare systems will be able to handle patient loads. In-person interactions include handshakes, hugs and face-to-face conversations less than six feet apart.
If people only reduce their interactions by 45%, state experts say there's a risk of exceeding hospital capacities this summer.
People older than 60 and those with underlying health conditions are advised to practice social distancing at 80%.
“Those are the ones we've seen from the data will actually end up being hospitalized more often,” said Charles Spickert, Pitkin County epidemiologist. “And that's where we could overwhelm the healthcare system.”
Spickert added that contact tracing teams could also have their capacities strained with lower reductions in social interaction.
“The more we want to open our community to visitors, workforces coming from adjacent counties,” Spickert said, “the more important it is for the rest of us to be socially distancing and maintaining practices that are going to limit viral spread.”
In order to track the prevalence of the virus in the community, health officials are monitoring testing data from Aspen Valley Hospital. Tests in the hospital’s “respiratory tent” are available to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms.
If 10% of tests start coming back positive, conditions are considered “concerning” and the county would reassess public health standards. Currently, about 5% of tests are coming back positive, according to Spickert’s presentation in a June 4 Board of Health Meeting.
Spickert said that statistic is used as a barometer for whether or not the county is doing enough testing.
“Given that we have such a low prevalence, if you’re only doing a small number of tests and getting positives, you’re not doing enough tests.” Spickert said. “You should be seeing a lot of negatives.”
As the county continues to expand its testing capacity, it will be less likely that 10% of tests come back positive. Right now, Spickert said, Pitkin County has the capacity to test more people than are showing symptoms and have requested tests.