By Randi Pierce
Archuleta County received a bit of good news late last week, just in time for Christmas — the rate of new infections of COVID-19 is decreasing, and Archuleta County is trending toward Level Orange: High Risk on the state’s COVID dial.
San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) released the good news on Friday, Dec. 18.
In a press release, the organization states it “is pleased to report that both Archuleta and La Plata counties are making progress in critical metrics to return to Level Orange: High Risk public health measures on Colorado’s COVID-19 Dial. The Dial pairs the public health protocols for businesses and events with underlying data about the pandemic in each county. In the past two weeks, both counties have begun to see improvements in case incidence and test positivity rates.”
On Dec. 16, Archuleta County had a two-week cumulative incidence rate (the number of new cases in the last 14 days, adjusted for county population) of 1,235.6 cases per 100,000 residents according to the state, which SJBPH Environmental Health Director Brian Devine noted was “very, very high.”
Archuleta County’s incidence rate peaked above 1,300 cases per 100,000 residents shortly after the county moved to Level Red: Severe Risk on Dec. 6.
By Wednesday, Dec. 23, that rate had fallen to 649.9 cases per 100,000 residents.
SJBPH noted that test positivity is beginning to drop in both counties and is already within parameters for Level Orange.
Archuleta County’s positivity rate for the week of Dec. 6, per SJBPH, was 10.74 percent.
As of Wednesday afternoon, SJBPH reported 444 cumulative lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residents, as well as 78 nonresident cases and six active outbreaks.
“SJBPH knows that many of our businesses are hanging by a thread and others have had to close,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “Our community has sacrificed so much to keep each other safe and we know how difficult that has been. These improving metrics show that public health measures are working, but they will only continue to work with consistent policy and behavior in our communities. As we begin vaccinating our most vulnerable community members, we are concerned about increased cases associated with gatherings with the winter holiday, prior to kids going back to school in person, and have a grave concern about what may happen on New Year’s Eve.”
Hospitalizations in the region, however, have not declined.
According to the SJBPH press release, “Unfortunately, hospitalizations in the southwest region have not begun to decline and utilization of healthcare, especially intensive care, continues to be high.”
“Hospitalization tends to be the last metric we track to rise or fall,” Jollon explained, “because it takes time for people to develop symptoms serious enough to need hospitalization. Nevertheless, the data are showing that what we’re doing is working. We urge everyone to continue good public health habits and to cancel any holiday gatherings they were hoping to have, so we can get through the rest of this winter and reopen businesses and schools safely as soon as possible.”
The press release notes, “If cases and positivity rates continue to decline and hospitalizations (especially intensive care unit usage) begin to trend in the right direction, there will be a good chance of reaching the less-restrictive phase in coming weeks.”
Archuleta County, in partnership with Western Heritage Event Center, Pagosa Medical Group, Axis Health System, Archuleta School District and the Town of Pagosa Springs, will hold a testing event on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 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.
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.
Pagosa Springs Medical Center (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.
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.
• Pagosa Medical Group (including rapid testing if deemed appropriate by a provider): 372-0456.
• PSMC: 731-3700.
The state suggests that people with symptoms should always get tested immediately. Symptoms include:
• Fever or chills.
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
• Muscle or body aches.
• New loss of taste or smell.
• Sore throat.
• Congestion or runny nose.
• Nausea or vomiting.
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.