Recent COVID-19 outbreaks don’t constitute surge in cases just yet, El Paso County Health Department says


EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. –– Five outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported in El Paso County since Sunday, bringing the area total to 17, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) website tracking outbreaks across the state.

Some of those 17 have been resolved, but the recent three of the five new outbreaks have occurred at locations where the public as customers can have significant interaction with the public.

“As we step into our ‘Safer-at-Home’, we now have expanded into the workforce and so we’re seeing some of that increased exposure,” El Paso County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Robyn Johnson said.

Three employees at the McDonald’s off of Airport Creek point, four employees at the Walmart on Space Center Drive and four employees at the Goodwill on Austin Bluffs Parkway have all tested positive.

Johnson says, EPCPH determines outbreaks based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and that begins with contact tracing. When Public Health finds out about a positive case, they find that person and conduct contact tracing––where they work through social interactions over the previous two weeks to determine where the infection happened and from whom.

The first step is to determine if it was from a family member or someone a patient lives with. They then work out of the home to other social circles.

Two cases in two weeks at a single location (whether it be a businesses, long-term care facility, etc.) trigger the epidemiological investigation.

After the home, family and friends are ruled out, investigators then go to the person’s place of work and find evidence that a person was infected there, which likely means another employee was sick and spread the virus. It highlights a tricky aspect about COVID––19: It is spread through the respiratory droplets in the air and a person can be contagious without showing symptoms.

“There maybe some of these outbreaks in the work areas,” Johnson explained. “What is key is that individuals who do have symptoms, they’re monitoring themselves.”

Isolating themselves and seeking a COVID––19 test is key as well Johnson says.

She says there are three things that factor into the likelihood a virus infects a person: The amount of respiratory droplets that contain the virus in the air, how long a person is exposed to those droplets, and the number of exposures a person has.

“When you think about the propellant and the amount of virus in that, it increases from general breathing to speaking to coughing and sneezing, singing, and these other things that increase not only concentration but also distance of propelling,” Johnson said. “That’s where those masks really help. If someone sneezes when they walk by you it doesn’t just land right on you, the mask will help stop that.”

The recent outbreaks, Johnson said have been among the younger population who are at a lower risk for severe infection. So far, those people have been able to keep at home to become well again meaning hospital beds are not being greatly impacted and fatality rates are not increased––key data to watch as society slowly reopens sectors of the economy.

“At this point, it has our attention and we’re definitely monitoring those trends,” Johnson said. “My job is to worry a little bit. At this point, I won’t be putting on the brakes. I keep saying it’s the sweet spot where we’re pushing against the boundaries of the virus but maintaining some control of human flourishing meaning that we are interacting, we do have an economy.”

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