COVID-19: Local public health orders expire, advisory issued

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By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

Following changes in recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and in the state’s mask order late last week, as well as increasing vaccination rates, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) allowed its public health orders related to COVID-19 to expire, instead issuing a public health advisory for Archuleta and La Plata counties.

On May 13, the CDC issued new guidance that states, in part, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

SJBPH’s public health advisory, issued on May 14, includes, according to a press release, “strong recommendations” that residents should follow “to protect themselves and limit the spread of COVID-19,” including face coverings in indoor public spaces and maintaining 6 feet of physical distance between individuals from different households.

Also on May 14, Gov. Jared Polis announced the state’s new executive order on masks, which, as summarized in a press release from the state, “encourages any individual aged 11 and older, who is not fully vaccinated, to continue wearing a mask indoors where members of different households are present. Fully vaccinated individuals can go without masks in almost all settings. Masks are still required in certain settings, including in schools for unvaccinated students, teachers, and staff, as well as other settings which are laid out in the Executive Order.”

“If you have been fully vaccinated, the pandemic is largely over for you, and you can now resume your activities without a mask,” Polis said in announcing the changes. “This is the day we have been waiting for. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask in public indoor spaces. I hope the fun of an unmasked future incentivizes those who have yet to get the vaccine to do so.”

In its press release announcing the new advisory, SJBPH notes “a federal requirement for mask wearing still applies to all individuals across transportation networks throughout the country, including on trains and buses, at airports, and onboard commercial aircraft. … Residents should be aware that although some COVID protocols are easing, masks may still be required in businesses complying with public health advisories and in other situations.”

SJBPH’s full advisory can be found at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/advisories-and-orders/.

The state’s mask order can be found at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GMl4jMZqEzz2ZxqeRyNehuHCfm2eXl-M/view.

Vaccines ‘strongly’ urged

According to SJBPH’s recent press release, “With local public health orders moving to advisories, SJBPH strongly urges residents who have not yet been vaccinated to do so immediately.”

SJBPH’s press release further states, “Local mask orders have recently helped protect unvaccinated individuals who are at high risk of getting COVID. The virus continues to spread, primarily within the unvaccinated population. The shift of most public health orders to advisories and the continued spread of the virus presents a clear choice to unvaccinated residents: Receive protection through vaccination or put yourself and your family at high risk for catching the severe variants of COVID-19 circulating in our community.”

As of Wednesday, SJBPH reported 969 cumulative cases of confirmed COVID-19 among permanent Archuleta County residents and 147 cases among nonpermanent residents.

Wednesday’s one-week positivity rate was 4 percent for Archuleta County.

Archuleta County’s one-week cumulative incidence rate was listed on Wednesday as 128.6 cases per 100,000 people, compared to La Plata County’s 53.30.

SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon noted that La Plata County is a little bit ahead of Archuleta County in terms of rates of fully vaccinated people, and case rates there are tracking with the increase in fully immunized individuals.

“Archuleta, unfortunately, with a lagging uptake of vaccines,” she said, “is not seeing the case rate drop as quickly as other parts of the state and other parts of the country.” 

As of Wednesday’s data posted by SJBPH, 53 percent of Archuleta County’s 12-and-over population (the currently eligible population, is considered fully vaccinated (two weeks after the final vaccine dose), while 48 percent has had at least one dose of a vaccine course.

SJBPH’s press release also indicates that, according to data collected by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and SJBPH between April 25 and May 1, “an unvaccinated resident was 20.7 times more likely to get COVID-19 than a vaccinated person in Archuleta County and 11.5 times more likely in La Plata County.”

According to CDC data, this week Colorado became the state with the highest one-week cumulative incidence rate in the country at 142.4 cases per 100,000 people.

Jollon also pointed out that three-quarters of Colorado cases are the more-transmissible and potentially more-severe UK variant.

“We’re really hoping that while the CDC is changing recommendations, that we remain vigilant here in Southwest Colorado until we bring our local rates down more in line with the rest of the country rather than this kind of outlier position that we’ve been in in Colorado for the last couple of weeks,” Jollon said, adding later that areas with higher case rates need to “absorb” the changes more slowly.

SJBPH has announced that it, with its state contractor Jogan Health, will be administering both the Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer vaccines today at the Ross Aragon Community Center, located at 451 Hot Springs Blvd.

Today, Thursday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to noon, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be administered.

Walk-ins are welcome, or appointments can be made at: https://www.comassvax.org//appointment/en/reg/6085129780.

From noon until 5 p.m. today, the Pfizer vaccine will be available to those 12 years of age or older at the same location (those 17 and younger must have consent from a parent or guardian).

Walk-ins are welcome, or appointments can be made at: https://www.comassvax.org//appointment/en/reg/2650784109.

Those with questions about vaccine types, safety and eligibility can call (877) 268-2926. To speak to SJBPH call handlers, call (970) 247-5702.

Additional information about the COVID vaccine, and links to make appointments with other vaccine providers offering Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer clinics, can be found at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/. 

Testing available

Rapid testing and PCR testing continue to be available in the community.

The Archuleta County community testing site (operated by COVIDCheck Colorado) offers both rapid Cue testing and lab-based PCR testing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at a drive-through structure behind the Pagosa Springs Medical Center building at 95 S. Pagosa Blvd. 

Residents are strongly encouraged (but not required) to preregister online for a Cue test: https://www.primarybio.com/l/cdphe.

Some individuals may be asked to complete both a rapid test and a PCR test since PCR testing allows for variant testing.

SJBPH encourages residents to get tested if they are symptomatic, think they’ve been exposed, or work in a high-contact position. There is no fee for testing. 

Additional testing information, including other locations offering testing, is available at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/testing/.