As the number of COVID-19 cases surges to new highs in Larimer County and Colorado, health officials are urging residents to take greater personal responsibility for slowing the spread of the virus.
That means keep doing the things we’ve been told to do for many months: Wash your hands a lot, cover your cough, wear a mask, keep your social “bubble” small, and stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not in your bubble when out and about.
But taking responsibility now means doing more. If you test positive for the virus, it’s up to you to let people you have been in contact with know they might have been exposed. Don’t rely on someone else to do it, said Katie O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Larimer County health department, in an interview.
“If you were at an event that you don’t want to tell the health department you were at, we get that,” O’Donnell said. “But make sure that the people you were with know that you are positive so they can be watching for symptoms and quarantining so they are not out spreading it in the community.”
If you’re sick, stay home; don’t go to work, don’t go to school, don’t go shopping. You should isolate until 10 days past the onset of symptoms. The people you’ve been in contact with need to quarantine for 14 days after exposure.
Having any symptom of COVID — even if it’s just a sore throat or a headache — should prompt you to take action and get tested. Not everyone who has the virus gets sick, and not all who do get sick experience the dry cough or fever initially identified as telltale signs of the illness, O’Donnell said.
“It doesn’t mean every ailment is COVID, but we certainly have a lot of it going on in our community right now, so we are starting to tell people to assume that’s what it is until you can be sure it’s not,” she said.
How bad is the situation in Larimer County? Real bad.
According to the county’s contact tracing, nearly 50% of people who have tested positive don’t know how they were exposed, said Tom Gonzales, public health director, during Thursday’s community forum on COVID. The number of cases in the county recently doubled in just 13 days.
With the rate of tests coming back positive in the last 14 days hovering around 12%, community spread of the disease is growing.
“This is the fastest rate of case increase at any time point in the pandemic, with no signs of slowing down,” Gonzales said.
Hospitalizations are on the rise, and medical staff are struggling to keep up with the workload, said Kevin Unger, president and CEO of UCHealth North Region. The community spread is hitting medical staff.
“Today our biggest issue is really around staffing and keeping our people healthy so that we can take care of our patients,” Unger said during the forum.
Larimer County on Tuesday will move to the “red” level of the state’s COVID risk dial, meaning tighter restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
Based on metrics establishing risk, including the rate of positive tests and the 14-day case rate per 100,000 residents — which stands at 848 as of this writing — the county had been way out of compliance with state guidelines for its “yellow” status.
There is hope on the horizon. Trials for COVID-19 vaccines are showing encouraging results. The first phase of distribution of a vaccine could come in late December.
But in the meantime, we must work together to keep each other safe and businesses open. No one wants another shutdown.
The community is up to the challenge, said Margo Karsten, Western Region president of Banner Health, during the forum. She’s seen it before as the community dealt with floods, fires and other disasters.
“We can get through this and keep our economy open, but it’s going to take intentional effort and not make it political,” Karsten said. “Make it about public health and caring about one another.”
Editor’s note: Since this story was originally published, the Larimer County health department announced the county will move to the red level for COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday. The story has been updated to reflect that.
Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.