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The Montezuma County Public Health Department announced Thursday morning that the county has confirmed two new positive cases of COVID-19, one of which has resulted in a death.
The two new cases join the initial positive case the health department announced Saturday afternoon. The county said that no details about the infected individuals would be released, citing privacy laws, but said that the Montezuma County Public Health Department was conducting “contact tracing” according to CDC protocols.
“All Montezuma County residents should assume that the COVID-19 virus is present in the community and will continue to spread if people do not adhere to the stay-at-home executive order,” the county said in a news release. “Carefully consider what essential travel means and limit time away from your home.”
The death is the first in Southwest Colorado linked to the coronavirus, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. La Plata County has reported 23 cases of COVID-19. Montezuma County reported its first case March 28.
The hospital has operated a drive-thru clinic since March 18 to screen for flu and take samples for potential coronavirus cases. Suspected coronavirus samples are sent to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment for processing and results can take up to a week.
The hospital does not have equipment to process the suspected COVID-19 specimen, but is seeking to obtain that equipment to handle COVID-19 testing in-house with results available in two to four hours.
If a person tests positive for flu at the drive-thru clinic, it is unlikely the person has coronavirus. If a patient with suspected symptoms does not have the flu and meets the criteria of fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, a nasal swab specimen may be taken by SHS and sent to CDPHE, which conducts the COVID-19 test.
At 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the county’s Public Health Director Bobbi Lock joined the Southwest Health System’s Facebook Live session to answer questions, along with Lindsay Yeager, SHS community relations manager, Marc Meyer, SHS director of pharmacy and infection prevention, and Kerri White-Singleton, chief operating officer of Southwest Medical Group.
Questions ranged from specifics surrounding the three cases, to testing processes and contact tracing, to best sanitization practices.
White-Singleton said that the hospital has conducted about 200 COVID-19 tests so far, and about 60 test results are still pending.
Lock declined to share details about the infected individuals, saying that would violate their privacy. She added that the message was the same, regardless of the individuals’ identification.
“We’re sorry for the family’s loss, and we are sorry for the community’s loss, a community member of Montezuma County,” Lock said. “With that being said, I really want people to keep this in mind, this is a clear reminder to us what we need to be doing in Montezuma County, and the importance of the stay at home order that was put into place.”
Lock explained the contact tracing process, which is conducted for any communicable disease, she said. She described it as being conducted through a “tiered” system.
“People who have had close interaction, close contact within 6-foot, 10 minutes or more, with that case, are those that we are contact tracing,” she said.
The Public Health Department has reached out and done this for the existing cases in Montezuma County, Lock said.
“From there, depending on whether they are symptomatic or not, they are given isolation or quarantine instructions,” she said.
All the individuals in that tier have been asked to be tested, she said.
“And then we go further out, the more results we get, the more symptoms we get,” Lock said. “The tiers grow.”
Lock highlighted the importance of thorough hand-washing and noted that gloves can carry the virus and sometimes lead to a false sense of hygiene.
“There is nothing that replaces good hand-washing with soap and water,” she said. “That is the absolute best, for 20 seconds, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to yourself, and then you’re done.”
All speakers emphasized the importance of social distancing. They urged listeners to stock up on supplies when possible, and that this was “not the time to shop or wander” at the store, White-Singleton said.
“Assume everyone has it,” she said. “It’s in the community, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t assume it, because it has been proven by the data that some people do not have symptoms.”