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Why Closures And Social Distancing Are Critical To Slowing COVID-19 In The Roaring Fork Valley

Mar 13, 2020

A sign at the Red Brick Center for the Arts tells visitors that the facility is closed through the end of March.
Credit Christin Kay / Aspen Public Radio

Pitkin County officials are emphasizing the importance of a community mitigation strategy that includes closures and social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“What we’re trying to prevent is explosive transmission,” said Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann in a briefing Friday. “We don’t want to overwhelm our health care system.”

Dave Ressler, the chief executive officer of Aspen Valley Hospital, agreed that the importance has shifted away from identifying cases through testing so that the hospital can focus on preparing to provide care to severely ill people. 

“It doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose to continue testing with limited resources,” said Ressler. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lab can process about 160 tests a day. 



Credit Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

The first presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Aspen were identified Wednesday. Those three people were in contact with a 21-year-old Australian woman who tested positive upon returning to her home country. Eventually, 10 visitors who traveled to the area with the woman tested presumptive positive. They have remained in isolation in Aspen.   


Ressler said testing is still an important tool for doctors treating patients with severe respiratory issues. 

“It’s helpful for our physicians to know if they have the virus,” he said. “But the first thing they’re going to do is address the patient.”


The public health orders in Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle counties that limit gatherings of more than 50 people is part of what Koenemann called an “aggressive” community mitigation strategy. 


“We are probably one of the most aggressive communities nationally” when it comes to mandating social distancing, she said. 

Koenemann emphasized the need for employers to allow people to work from home, and to provide enough sick leave so that employees can stay home for two weeks if they become symptomatic. 

“We recognize that there’s social disruption with this kind of response,” Koenemann said. “But that’s really what’s going to mitigate this virus at this point.”

If the number of tests and presumptive positive cases plateau, she noted, it does not indicate that the virus is slowing its spread. 

There is confirmed community transmission in Eagle County, meaning the virus is so widespread that it’s no longer possible to trace the source of where someone contracted it. 

Koenemann said that modeling shows that community transmission is likely present in Pitkin County, and triggered the shift in focus from testing to social distancing. 

Anyone with questions is encouraged to call the Pitkin County Coronavirus Hotline at (970) 429-6186.