Setting the COVID Record Straight with Dr. Jesse Sandhu01/28/2021 12:50PM ● By Rachel Miller
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – On Wednesday, Routt County Board of Commissioners discussed additional public health orders in response to Routt County’s highest case count reported since the beginning of the pandemic. With an alarming increase in cases, the Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith suggests limiting personal gatherings to one household, and she will present a revised public health order to the County Commissioners on Monday, February 1.
The spike in cases we saw earlier this month was believed to be caused by holiday gatherings, but several weeks later, Routt County is hitting new all-time highs in case counts. According to Dr. Sandhu, physician at Steamboat Emergency Center, there are several factors contributing to the rapid increase in positive cases. “Well, we found that the virus’ ability to infect people increases with colder climates,” Dr. Sandhu says. “In other words, the viral particles survive longer in cold climates versus warm climates, so that makes it more spreadable during winter season.”
Another troubling factor has been the way the virus infects each individual differently – being symptomatic versus asymptomatic. Asymptomatic individuals are unfortunately playing a huge part in spreading the virus. Dr. Sandhu states, “I consider the asymptomatic more problematic in spreading the virus. If you don’t have symptoms, you don’t know you have it, you’re out at City Market, you’re out at Walmart, you’re in the community – spreading it – and you don’t even know it.” As a community, the importance of being proactive and taking necessary precautions is extremely high right now – get tested when possible, reducing contact by staying home, and keeping gatherings to a single household.
Getting tested may only seem necessary when showing symptoms, coming into contact with a positive case, or if needed for travel clearance. But, with the uncertainty of the virus and each person’s response being different, getting tested frequently is the safest way to know of exposure. Diagnostic tests are the most common, as they can show if you have an active coronavirus infection.
Steamboat Emergency Center offers two different types of diagnostic tests: molecular tests (RT-PCR tests) and antigen tests. Dr. Sandhu explains the efficiency of each test, saying, “The antigen rapid testing is not as sensitive for asymptomatic patients. This test is really only useful when your viral loads are high, meaning you’re showing full-on symptoms. The PCR is the test you really want to use for screening.” When asked which test is more effective, he responds, “PCR is a better screening test, but it requires a high-complexity lab and can often be delayed. The antigen test is not as good of a screening but can be done at the bedside and repeated very easily, and if it’s positive, it is a very reliable test. There is a very tiny chance of false-positive.”
In response to Steamboat Springs’ high demand for testing, SEC employed mid-level providers in order to test more efficiently – leaving ER staff out of harm’s way in terms of exposure and able to focus on solely ER patients. SEC also has an online booking portal, making booking an appointment quick and easy. A test can usually be booked within 24 to 48 hours, and it’s one hundred percent free with health insurance. To learn more, visit steamboatemergency.com/covid/.
The community of Steamboat Springs has been combating this virus together since day one, and Dr. Sandhu believes we have to keep our eyes on the main goal. “Look at your community, follow the trends, figure out where the problems lie, take all the necessary precautions, and be proactive,” he says. “I know the economy is hurting, and people are waiting for things to open back up, but the more anxious we get, the more we can dig ourselves into a hole where the economy shuts down even further.”
It has been a troubling time for the businesses of Steamboat Springs and the community as a whole. But with a little bit more patience, there just might be a light at the end of the tunnel after all. Dr. Sandhu advises, “The vaccine is out; let’s let the vaccine do its job and see if it can do what it’s supposed to, and in the meantime, we hunker down and wait. Once we get that elderly population vaccinated, and we can decrease those ICU beds, things can start to open up because now the people who are the biggest target for the virus are out of harm’s way.”“That’s kind of the goal that we need to look forward to,” he says, “and not look at the immediate need to socialize or to open our businesses up and be selfish in terms of not adequately protecting this community when we’re so close.” So, let’s continue to protect the community of Steamboat Springs, and do our parts as individuals to return our city to a sense of normalcy.