One of the most frustrating aspects of the COVID-19 crisis is the inability of researchers to determine how many people may actually be infected. After all, the short supply of test kits means that even most people displaying symptoms can't get tested unless they become critically ill, and the lag time between the instant of infection and the appearance of virus indicators — not to mention the significant number of people who may have the novel coronavirus but are entirely asymptomatic — prevents us from having a clear idea about the scope of the current problem and how bad it may get.
Now, however, an online, crowdsourced symptom tracker developed by Summit County, an area that's near one of Colorado's hot spots, is offering some of the best evidence yet about COVID-19's reach. Current numbers suggest that around 3 percent of the population, or perhaps even more, may be infected, raising the specter of even greater proliferation throughout the community and beyond.
Here are the COVID-19 figures available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as of late afternoon on March 31:
2,966 cases (including positive tests and presumptive infections)
16,849 people tested
16 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities
The CDPHE stats suggest that Summit County, whose website lists its population at 30,622 in 2017 (the most recent year available), is in much better shape than other mountain communities whose ski areas cater to tourists from around the world. So far, it's seen twenty cases, zero deaths and an infection rate of 64.75 per 100,000 people — far fewer than neighboring Eagle County, which has catalogued a staggering 227 cases, four deaths and an infection rate of 413.76 per 100,000 people.
However, the Summit County System Tracker tells a much more complex story. Thus far, 1,195 people have posted their symptoms to the page — nearly 4 percent of its population.
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The responses are sorted by age (from infancy to eighty-plus) and town/zip code: 80424 (Blue River, Breckenridge), 80435 (Dillon, Dillon Valley, Keystone, Montezuma, Summit Cove), 80443 (Copper Mountain, Frisco), 80497 (Silverthorne) and 80498 (Heeney, Mesa Cortina, Ptarmigan, Silverthorne and Wildernest). Within each community, the tool lists the number of people exhibiting the most common COVID-19 symptoms: cough, fever, headache, muscle aches, shortness of breath and sore throat.
Here's the current breakdown for each:
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80498 (Heeney, Mesa Cortina, Ptarmigan, Silverthorne, Wildernest)
Muscle Aches: 108
Shortness of Breath: 98
Muscle Aches: 16
Shortness of Breath: 10
Sore Throat: 16
Sore Throat: 156
80443 (Copper Mountain, Frisco)
Muscle Aches: 69
Shortness of Breath: 66
Sore Throat: 100
80435 (Dillon, Dillon Valley, Keystone, Montezuma, Summit Cove)
Muscle Aches: 99
Shortness of Breath: 97
Sore Throat: 134
80424 (Blue River, Breckenridge)
Muscle Aches: 183
Shortness of Breath: 152
Sore Throat: 244
It's likely that not all of these individuals have COVID-19, but since the general population isn't being tested, we simply don't know. And it's just as probable that many people who are displaying symptoms haven't taken the time to enter their data, thereby suggesting potentially greater spread.
If there's any good news in the Summit County tracker, it's in a graph showing the "Timeline of Symptom Onset." The illustration begins on February 25 with a low baseline that spikes on March 16 before steadily falling toward the end of the month. This trend implies that Summit County may have weathered COVID-19's first assault. But considering the number of coughing, aching, feverish people documented by the tracker, there almost certainly will be more waves to come.