With third Montrose case and first in Delta, COVID cases grow on Western Slope

A National Guard member helps conduct testing for COVID-19 at the Montrose County Event Center Monday. These test results are not yet available.

Tuesday, the state confirmed the third and fourth Montrose County cases of the novel coronavirus-2019, and the first positive test in Delta County, adding to the growing tally on the Western Slope.

As of Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment listed three positive cases for Montrose County for COVID-19, the upper respiratory virus for which there is currently no vaccine, and which has caused thousands of deaths worldwide, as well as 11 deaths in Colorado.

One of the new positive cases in Montrose County was a 27-year-old female who is quarantining at home. She was out in the Montrose and Delta communities on March 16.

The other positive case is an 88-year old male who is also quarantined at home. His exposure to the disease is unknown.

The other two positives, to date, are men in their 30s who are recovering at home.

The Delta County patient was a woman in her 30s, according to that county, which cited information from the CDPHE, as cited in a Delta County news release.

The woman had close contact with someone who had tested positive from another county in the state; she is fully recovered and the Delta County Health Department is working to identify others she had close contact with in the past two weeks. (A positive case is defined as someone who tests positive for COVID-19, or those who have its symptoms and were in close contact with someone who tested positive.)

Neither Delta County nor Montrose County’s positive tests necessarily reflect the level of the virus’ presence here.

State officials acknowledged the number of tests conducted in rural areas is low. Efforts to improve testing included the Colorado National Guard and CDPHE coming to Montrose Monday to conduct tests of pre-selected individuals. Those results are pending.

“It’s very safe to say there are substantially more cases in western Colorado than are being reported,” State Emergency Operations Center Director Mike Willis said Tuesday, during a remote call with reporters. “We all understand the cases in a community far exceed the number of tests.”

As testing capacity grows, the state will have a better understanding of the virus’ reach, Willis said.

Earlier in the call, he also acknowledged a backlog in the state lab producing test results and said a private lab is also assisting. The state lab can get through about 400 samples a day; the private lab is so far able to run about 200, he said.

The fact that the number of cases likely exceeds the numbers of tests conducted serves to emphasize the importance of practicing good hygiene, staying out of public as much as possible and maintaining a safe distance from others when out and about, Willis indicated.

“Even in rural Colorado, you cannot undervalue the need. If you have symptoms you must self-quarantine to prevent the spread,” Willis said.

He also told reporters the state is working on a patient transfer plan under which COVID-19 patients could be moved from overwhelmed facilities to others. That plan is not driven by geography — for example, moving patients from the Western Slope to the Front Range — but by need, Willis said.

Delta County had implemented an emergency declaration and procedures before the positive test and had been expecting a positive case eventually, officials said in a press release. Montrose County previously declared an emergency as well, as did the City of Montrose, the Town of Olathe and multiple other local governments statewide.

Delta’s community response plan focuses efforts on reducing the spread of the virus and monitoring those who may have been in contact with the woman who tested positive, public health director Karen O’Brien said.

“Our common goal in all of this is to reassure the public that we are doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of Delta County residents and our communities,” said Delta County Administrator Robbie LeValley, in the press release.

Delta County reiterated the importance of social distancing — maintaining a distance of 6 feet when possible; forgoing handshakes and hugs; working from home if possible; keeping kids and teens from public places; staying home and avoiding group gatherings, which the state has restricted to fewer than 10 people.

Officials there also reiterated hygiene steps and avoiding those who are ill, or being with others if you are ill.

COVID-19 testing is conducted on individuals whose providers have assessed their symptoms and determined whether they meet certain criteria; it is not a routine test, or one available on demand.

Many cases of the illness are mild and the expectation is such patients will isolate at home, if possible, sleeping in a separate room and using a separate bathroom than others in the home.

Stats per CDPHE

Positives (per state testing, including those who test positive and those who have COVID-19 symptoms and are a close contact to a person who tested positive): 912

Hospitalizations: 84

Counties: 35 of 64

Number of people tested: 7,701

Deaths: 11

Outbreaks in residential and non-residential health care facilities: 7

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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