School quarantines students after party; mass testing conducted
After workplace outbreaks and positive COVID-19 cases tied to parties, Ouray County health officials are pleading with people to wear masks, stay home if they feel sick, wash hands and keep their distance from others to try to slow the spread of the virus.
Ridgway Secondary School quarantined 42 students - almost half the student population - after a Halloween party, after which one student tested positive and possibly exposed others at the social event and a sports practice.
Twenty-five new positive cases in the past two weeks prompted the state to downgrade Ouray County’s position on the reopening dial, with more restrictive protocols. The most recent cases announced this week include a woman in her 40s who was tested positive on Nov. 4 and three probable cases connected to other positives - a man in his 20s, a man in his 30s and a teenage girl.
The teenager had not been at Ridgway Secondary School while she was infectious, according to the school, but “due to their attendance at a volleyball practice last Tuesday evening, and a social gathering Halloween evening, we have a number of students that have been required to quarantine,” Superintendent Susan Lacy wrote in an email to parents.
The new cases came on the eve of a mass testing event at the Ouray County Fairgrounds, which was organized after an outbreak at the Ouray Silver Mines. Since then, there have been other outbreaks involving Brickhouse 737, and others under investigation that were connected to social gatherings.
On Wednesday morning, long lines of cars waited for testing at the fairgrounds, where Colorado National Guard members and Public Health Director Tanner Kingery directed them.
Members of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Rapid Response Team, dressed in protective equipment over heavy coats and hats, conducted the tests through car windows. They instructed people to cough into their elbow three times, then handed them a swab and told them to wipe the inside of their mouths, including under their tongues and inside their lips.
Some said the recent spike in cases prompted them to get tested, while others waiting in line said they would have taken advantage of the free testing anyway.
Maureen Doughty, who works at a hotel in Ouray, said she was encouraged to get tested because she works with people who have kids in school and could spread the virus.
She said while she’s not “overly concerned” about her exposure, she’s cautious and avoids people who aren’t wearing masks when she can. The long line wasn’t a surprise to her.
Shelly Kuhlman, who waited about 30 minutes, said it was her first time getting tested. She said she took advantage of the free testing because of the recent rise in cases locally.
The COVID-19 case count for Ouray County residents is now up to 63, including 51 cases confirmed with positive test results and 12 probable cases.
“If you were at any sort of party in the past two weeks please get tested,” said Glenn Boyd, the county’s emergency manager.
The health department has specifically mentioned Halloween gatherings but has also said any social gatherings are a concern at this time.
The state health department has changed the protocols for Ouray County in response to increased virus cases recently as of Monday night, the county is now in the yellow, “safer at home: concern” category on the state’s color-coded dial. This means bars should be closed, most indoor places are limited to 50% capacity (including offices, personal services, retail and restaurants), and Ouray County no longer has the variance allowing increased capacity at indoor and outdoor pools.
If the cases continue to increase, the next most restrictive phase on the state’s protocols is the orange “safer at home: high risk” category and then the most-restrictive level is the red “stay at home.”
“It’s pretty much a house on fire with cases right now,” Kingery said this week, noting one of the major concerns is overwhelming the health care system and reduce capacity for other procedures.
This week, Gov. Jared Polis extended the statewide mask order, first issued in July, and asked Coloradans to refrain from social gatherings outside their households and isolate themselves for 10 days before getting together for Thanksgiving.
“Wear a mask, avoid social interactions, physically distance from others, and wash your hands regularly,” Polis said during a press conference Tuesday.
Polis stopped short of issuing another stay-at-home order during this fall spike of cases, but said “now’s the time to buckle down.”
He urged people to be careful to flatten the curve in the hopes that the upcoming holiday season will not result in increased cases.
“Together, we can save Christmas,” he said.