Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 14, 2020, local public health officials have been monitoring the spread of the novel coronavirus in our community and watching for the point at which we are not able to determine how a person contracted the virus. When that happens in a handful of cases, that’s an indication community spread is occurring, or spread of the virus beyond known contacts.
There are currently 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Mesa County. Mesa County Public Health has identified 5 cases where there is an unknown transmission source.
What does this mean?
Now in Mesa County, as is happening in many communities across Colorado and the United States, we have to assume members of our community are passing this virus to one another without having known contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. Case investigations, contact tracing, and sampling will continue, however, once we have community spread, it is impossible to identify every case.
“There’s still so much that we’re learning about this virus, and with an incubation period of up to two weeks, individuals are likely infecting others without realizing it,” Jeff Kuhr, Mesa County Public Health Executive Director, said. “We must protect our community by staying home and staying away from people who are not part of our immediate family.” The public health orders currently in place in Colorado require this behavior, with exceptions for essential services. Compliance with these orders is punishable by law; we have encouraged voluntary compliance, but this is a plea to do your part, and comply. “COVID-19 is in Mesa County, and everyone has a responsibility to help to contain it,” Kuhr added.
What do I need to do differently?
Community spread in Mesa County means this threat is real in our community. This is our strongest plea yet for our community to listen to public health guidance, stay home, and take action to stop the spread of the virus.
Here’s why; when we know the source of an infection, we’re able to have an idea of the potential breadth of an outbreak, and we can take steps to intervene and prevent further spread.
With the current COVID-19 situation, most of the sources of infection to this point have been related to travel or contact with a known COVID-19 case. We interview the individual who tested positive and also interviews everyone who was identified as close contact to that person. Known-source outbreaks are generally small and pretty easy to contain.
If we have someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and we are not able to make an association to travel, or to another person known to have been infected, then that person is classified as being associated with an “unknown source.” In this case, it’s more difficult to contain the outbreak because we don’t know if the unknown source is local or whether that source may have infected a few people or many people.
Under normal circumstances, it’s at this community spread stage when Public Health interventions, like closures, are implemented. Because of the widespread infection and global impact of this novel coronavirus, some of those actions are already in place. Actions include closures of public buildings, restrictions on mass gatherings, orders to stay at home, and a strong message to distance yourself from others. These things are already in place for COVID-19, and the actions we take now to limit our contact with others will be critical in determining the impact of COVID-19 in Mesa County.
What is Mesa County Public Health doing?
Mesa County Public Health will shift from working to contain several small outbreaks to preparing for a larger community outbreak. We have already taken steps to enlist the help of additional partners such as physicians, schools, and employers to help us in our disease surveillance process.
The goal is to keep the most at-risk people – those aged 65+ and people with compromised immune systems – and those who interact with that group, like health care workers and long-term care facility workers, from getting or spreading the virus. Each of us has a responsibility to take action to help slow the spread of this virus, even if you are not in the groups listed, think about how your actions could influence the spread and potentially impact your friends, family or even yourself.
Information on all the cases in Mesa County can be found here, and as you can see through this dashboard, there has been a steady increase in cases over the past few weeks, with case counts going from 17 to 31 in 7 days.