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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

Routt County Beefs Up Health Order As Coronavirus Cases Surge

Matt Bloom
Trucks drive through Oak Creek, where the South Routt Medical Center is located, on Dec. 24, 2020. The town is located roughly 25 miles southwest of Steamboat Springs.

While COVID-19 cases appear to be declining across Colorado's Front Range, Routt County has seen a surge in case numbers over the past few weeks. To slow the spread of the virus, Routt County commissioners implemented a new public health order effective as of Monday.

Roberta Smith, Routt County’s director of public health, sat down with Colorado Edition’s Erin O’Toole to talk about the order. Smith said the county’s COVID-19 case numbers have increased since the winter holidays.

“We do have evidence that some of the cases came from close contacts that were at New Year's Eve parties or Christmas parties,” Smith said. “We've definitely linked, through our contact tracing, that household spread and contact with other known contacts really is what's driving our numbers up.”

Statewide data shows most counties with destination resorts are seeing an increase in COVID-19 numbers. But Smith said Routt County has not found evidence that tourists are bringing the virus into the community.

“Unfortunately, the numbers that are driving our increase, those are residents that have tested positive,” Smith said.

However, the county does not track whether visitors test positive after leaving the county and going back home.

Routt County is currently at Level Orange — high risk — on Colorado’s dial risk level framework. Though the state plans to modify the dial soon, Smith said the county followed the current version to keep expectations simple. She said the county combined recommendations from both the red and orange levels of dial.

Under the county’s new order, restaurants are operating at 25% capacity.

The order also includes educational information for restaurants to reduce transmission. Though indoor dining patrons are required to wear masks when they are not eating or drinking, Smith said it is common for people to sit, linger and chat without their masks after finishing a meal.

“We're encouraging restaurants to educate their patrons that they should put on their masks when they're not actively eating or drinking,” Smith said.

The county also bolstered restrictions on private and public gatherings by limiting them to members of only one household.

Smith said this is a response to data showing the virus spreading between households. Contract tracers know residents are getting together and having parties.

“Hopefully our community will understand that this isn't a good idea, Smith said. “By putting that element in the public health order, maybe we can get our numbers to decrease in that area.”

Non-critical office spaces were also targeted and must now operate at 10% capacity.

“We were starting to see some companies that could have workers work from home, start having their employees coming back into the office,” Smith said. “We wanted to make sure that we were limiting areas where people were congregating indoors.”

The new order is set to go through March 1. However, if case numbers decline, Smith said it could be lifted sooner.

Though “COVID fatigue” has taken hold in Routt County and across Colorado, Smith hopes community members will take the order seriously.

KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
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