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Health officials in Southwest Colorado have confirmed more positive cases of the coronavirus, including one local health care worker, which will likely result in more strict measures to reduce the disease’s spread.
On Wednesday, San Juan Basin Public Health said three new cases of the virus have been confirmed, bringing to four the total number of cases in La Plata County, with the first case announced Monday.
Archuleta County, which SJBPH also serves, has reported no cases to date.
The new positive cases were from community testing last week on about 70 people. The health department was awaiting results from about 13 tests.
Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH, said demographics of those who tested positive will not be released, citing patient privacy laws. But health officials are using the results to track where the virus is spreading in the region and appropriately inform public health orders.
At least one of the confirmed cases, however, was an Axis Health System staff member.
AHS officials said it has been following best protocols since early March, and the potential exposure to staff and patients was limited to a 2½-day time frame between March 16 and 18 after the staffer was sent home when symptoms were identified. Tests results confirmed the presence of the virus Tuesday.
AHS medical director Luke Casisas said in the statement patients who had contact with the staff member will be contacted directly.
“I want to assure our community and our patients that we have been following the recommended protocols for patient and staff protection and our clinics are safe places to be,” he said.
AHS has concerns for two other employees, who are now in self-quarantine, yet operations services should not be affected, the health provider said.
The major takeaway, Jollon said, is the new findings showed the coronavirus in people who have not left La Plata County in the past 14 days before exhibiting symptoms, a sign to health officials that transmission of the disease is happening within the community.
“These are people who didn’t fly in from Denver or Italy,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s spreading from community member to community member.”
The new cases heighten the need for more aggressive measures to slow the spread of the virus, Jollon said. If stricter measures are not put in place, she said, it’s likely Southwest Colorado’s trajectory of increased cases will follow suit with other places that have been hit hard after not promoting social distancing.
The move from a stay-at-home advisory to an order was the expected route, but Jollon said Wednesday afternoon that those details would be coordinated with local and state officials, with a formal action likely announced Thursday.
Late Wednesday, however, Gov. Jared Polis ordered a temporary statewide stay-at-home order, and it was not immediately clear how that will affect local efforts.
Wednesday’s findings confirmed what health officials suspected and feared.
For the past few weeks, a lack of available testing kits had health officials playing a bit of a guessing game about whether the virus had reached Southwest Colorado, or at the very least, to what degree.
Health officials said residents should assume and behave as if the virus was here and spreading, leading to a host of local and state orders and advisories to limit human interaction, like closing restaurants and schools, shutting down ski resorts and discouraging groups of more than 10 people.
But a concerted effort to test 70 at-risk Southwest Colorado residents happened Friday and Saturday, and about 30 more tests were being done Wednesday.
The most recent data from the state health department shows 1,086 positive cases in Colorado throughout 36 counties, and 19 deaths. No deaths have been reported in La Plata County.