Rate of COVID infections in county still ‘very, very high’

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    The following story was updated to reflect the cancellation of testing on Dec. 22 and 29.

    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    Despite logging fewer new cases in the last week than in weeks past, Archuleta County’s cumulative incidence rate is still “very, very high,” according to San Juan Basin Public Health’s (SJBPH) Brian Devine.

    As of Wednesday afternoon, Archuleta County had a total of 421 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among permanent residents, according to SJBPH, with that count beginning in late March.

    On Dec. 1, 259 total cases had been reported.

    No COVID-related deaths have been identified in Archuleta County, according to SJBPH.

    But, despite the county logging a few cases per day for several days in a row, Devine — environmental health director and deputy incident commander for COVID-19 at SJBPH -— suggested it’s too soon to come to the conclusion that the county is flattening the curve. 

    “We definitely would not draw any conclusions from three days’ worth of data, especially because Thanksgiving was in there,” he said, suggesting there could have been a short-term spike due to the holiday.

    As of Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment listed Archuleta County’s two-week cumulative incidence rate at 1,235.5 cases per 100,000 residents.

    “This level that we’re at, if this is where we’re flattening out, is still very, very high,” he said, adding, “That’s over 1 percent of the population testing positive in a two-week period, which is extremely high.”

    Devine suggested that Archuleta County is now seeing the results of moving to Level Orange on the state’s COVID dial, increased awareness in the community and following precautions, and will start seeing the impact of the county’s Dec. 6 move to Level Red: Severe Risk in the coming days, around Dec. 18-21.

    “And that’s just because obviously people … who are getting infected take time to develop symptoms and then get tested and then for those results to come back to us,” he said. 

    “We’re seeing a steady stream of sick people,” said Dr. David Shaeffer, co-owner of Pagosa Medical Group (PMG), adding, “Obviously there’s a lot more COVID in Pagosa now, so we are having a lot more patients who are testing positive.”

    Devine also noted SJBPH is concerned that a trend the department saw over Thanksgiving will repeat itself over Christmas and New Year’s — more contacts between households.

    “And obviously if we’re trying to get cases to come down, this is not the time to be socializing outside of your household over those holidays,” he said, suggesting increased gatherings could “undo all the good work we’ve done as a community.”

    Increased testing
    continues

    Testing capabilities in Archuleta County are continuing to increase, with PMG announcing last week that it now has rapid testing available for symptomatic individuals.

    “That’s actually a big deal for us,” Shaeffer said, explaining the facility now has an Abbot ID NOW, which is the same the White House and some sports teams are using.

    The test is a nasopharyngeal swab and produces a result in 15 minutes, he explained, and is done completely on-site after an individual meets with a provider.

    The quick results, he explained, are “really important from a disease-control perspective.

    Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) also has rapid testing, which it uses primarily for employee testing and hospitalized individuals, as well as other circumstances where it is deemed appropriate.

    PSMC continues to test symptomatic patients through its clinic, and offers testing to asymptomatic individuals who may have been exposed through drive-through testing to the right rear of the medical center six days per week.

    The drive-thru testing is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day but Sunday and will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. 

    In addition, testing events continue to be planned. 

    Archuleta County, in partnership with Western Heritage Event Center, PMG, Axis Health System, Archuleta School District and the Town of Pagosa Springs, will hold additional testing events today and tomorrow, Dec. 17 and 18, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the all-weather Hughes Pavilion at the Archuleta County Fairgrounds, located at 344 U.S 84.

    Holiday week testing will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 23 and 30.

    There is no fee for testing and a doctor’s order is not required.

    Preregistration for the testing is encouraged on the day of the testing at: https://curative.com/sites/14533/walkup.

    PSMC CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb cautioned that tests are a “snapshot in time” and a negative test does not mean you won’t later become symptomatic and spread the virus.

    Providers offering testing include:

    • Archuleta Integrated Healthcare: 264-2104.

    • PMG: 372-0456.

    • PSMC: 731-3700.

    COVID-19 symptoms

    The state suggests that people with symptoms should always get tested immediately. Symptoms include:

    • Fever or chills.

    • Cough.

    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

    • Fatigue.

    • Muscle or body aches.

    • Headache.

    • New loss of taste or smell.

    • Sore throat.

    • Congestion or runny nose.

    • Nausea or vomiting.

    • Diarrhea.

    Steps to slow the spread

    According to SJBPH, the necessary steps that must be taken now by everyone to slow the spread of COVID-19 are:

    • Universal use of face masks.

    • Social distancing of at least 6 feet.

    • Avoiding nonessential indoor spaces.

    • Getting tested if you are symptomatic, think you’ve been exposed or if you work in a high-contact position.

    • Prompt following of quarantine guidance if exposed.

    • Protecting people at higher risk of severe illness or death.

    • Postponing travel.

    • Improving indoor ventilation and hand hygiene.

    • Protecting essential workers.

    • Getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.