As the daily number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States approached a new high Wednesday, the total number of cases in La Plata and Archuleta counties remained low, despite increased testing efforts.
There are 97 cases in La Plata County and eight in Archuleta County, but Samie Stephens, regional epidemiologist for San Juan Basin Public Health, said there is an increasing number of people with COVID-19 who show no symptoms at all. During the past two months, 11% of COVID-19 cases in the two counties were asymptomatic, she said.
“That doesn’t mean there are fewer cases, they are just asymptomatic,” Stephens said Thursday during a meeting with the health department’s board.
Meanwhile Thursday, Texas, which was among the first states to reopen, put off lifting more restrictions and reimposed a ban on elective surgeries in some places to preserve hospital space after the number of patients statewide more than doubled in two weeks. Nevada’s governor ordered face masks be worn in public, Las Vegas casinos included.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 37,667 new cases and 692 new deaths in the U.S. The surge focused largely in the South and the West. In Arizona, 23% of tests conducted over the past seven days have been positive, nearly triple the national average, and a record 415 patients were on ventilators. Florida and Texas reported their largest single-day totals of new cases earlier this week.
San Juan Basin Public Health has worked to make additional testing available and said there was no wait time for tests.
SJBPH also created a self-reporting symptom tracker online as part of its contact-tracing efforts.
But Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director, said the website has not managed to generate a proper picture of the COVID-19 cases that haven’t been captured by testing or tracing. If someone reports symptoms that prove to be allergies and not COVID-19, such as a sore throat, there is no way for the health department to identify and separate that data.
As testing becomes more readily available, Brian Devine, deputy commander for the COVID-19 response in La Plata County, said SJBPH will target testing to people who have come in contact with COVID-19 patients.
SJBPH is ramping up its testing and contact-tracing capacity in the hope that under the next phase of Colorado’s reopening – “Protect Our Neighbors” – counties will have more control over guidelines for businesses and services.
“The restrictions will be tied more directly to system health care data,” or local data, Devine said.
In that case, restaurants and other businesses struggling with current capacity limits can relax some of those distancing restrictions.
SJBPH provided feedback to Gov. Jared Polis’ office about what the next phase should look like, but Jollon said the health department “doesn’t know whether or not that will be taken up in the final product.”
The Associated Press contributed to this firstname.lastname@example.org