By Randi Pierce
The COVID-19 Delta (B.1.617.2) variant is now likely the dominant strain in Archuleta County.
“We’re pretty much assuming the majority of cases in the last 10 days or so are Delta,” said Brian Devine, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) environmental director and deputy incident commander for the agency’s COVID-19 response.
According to SJBPH, the Delta variant was first detected in India and is widely regarded by public health experts to be one of the most transmissible and severe variants of COVID-19 to date.
Devine explained that a number of testing providers automatically participate in variant analysis, meaning all of their positive samples are sent to the state lab for variant analysis.
“So, that’s pretty good surveillance,” he said.
He added cases can also be flagged for analysis after the fact to be sent to the state, which can be done in cases of suspected reinfection or vaccine breakthrough, or in targeted variant analysis for outbreaks.
Devine noted analysis can take 10 days, calling it a “significant time delay.”
“The fact that we’ve seen such an increase in cases and these outbreaks have affected, in some cases, pretty much all the unvaccinated exposed people — that’s not something that we saw before,” Devine said, referring to a number of workplace outbreaks in Archuleta and La Plata County.
Devine explained that, previously, if a group of 10 unvaccinated staff were exposed at a meeting, four or five would test positive. Now, it’s more like eight or nine who test positive.
“And that’s really just in the last less than 10 days, so our assumption is that is the Delta variant spreading rapidly through both counties,” he said.
He added about three-quarters of the sequenced cases in Colorado are the Delta variant currently, though he acknowledged that does not mean it’s three-quarters of all cases in Colorado because the variant analysis is targeted toward counties experiencing surges.
“It’s clearly going to go up to 90 percent statewide, just like it did in the United Kingdom and as it will probably do in every other state in the next couple of months as well,” he said.
Devine acknowledged SJBPH is seeing more breakthrough cases among vaccinated people, though not a lot more.
He added that is probably due to the combination of having more vaccinated people who can count as breakthrough cases and “the Delta variant performing differently against different vaccines.”
He added, “The evidence overall is there’s probably a very slight reduction in vaccine effectiveness against Delta, at least for the mRNA vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer. That’s where most of the research has been.”
He added that more research is being done and there does not appear to be any reduction in vaccine protection against severe disease or hospitalization.
“In unvaccinated persons, it does appear to be more severe,” he said. “It is producing more hospitalizations, but those hospitalizations are almost exclusively in the unvaccinated population.”
SJBPH’s current public health advisory relating to COVID-19 can be found at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/advisories-and-orders/.
On June 23, SJBPH confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Pagosa Springs Walmart, with five employees having tested positive at that time.
As of July 7, Devine reported that outbreak had grown to 14 individuals.
An outbreak is defined by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as five or more cases associated with a single facility in a 14-day period.
The outbreak was first identified on June 12, SJBPH reported in a press release on June 30.
Devine told The SUN Wednesday two of the cases were in vaccinated individuals, with the rest in unvaccinated individuals and in individuals whose vaccination status was unknown.
The state’s outbreak information is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid19-outbreak-data.
Local COVID numbers
As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,064 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,032 a week prior.
The agency showed Archuleta County was at 2 percent positivity Wednesday and had a seven-day cumulative incidence rate of 200.00 cases per 100,000 people -— up from 78.60 the previous week.
Almost half of the county’s total population had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Wednesday, with 46 percent of the population having completed a vaccine series.
Of the eligible population (those 12 and older), 56 percent has received at least one dose, while 53 percent have completed a vaccine series.
Devine indicated SJBPH is meeting today with school districts in its service area to discuss comments to submit regarding the state’s draft guidance for the upcoming school year.
Devine indicated the state’s guidance appears to be focusing on encouraging frequent testing, especially rapid testing, to quickly isolate positive cases and rely as little as possible on quarantines, the dismissal of entire classes and remote learning.
But, he indicated, it appears as though the state will issue guidance and a requirement, which could lead to wide spread of the virus in a school setting if schools opt to not follow the guidance.
There are also concerns testing won’t be enough, he noted, adding that the best strategy involves testing, isolating, contact tracing and quarantining.
Devine noted SJBPH has a “really good” relationship with local districts and schools and, even if the state issues guidance and not requirements, local schools have a desire to maximize in-person learning and keep students safe.
The Delta variant, he added, “makes it more important to get this right,” he said.
In addition to local providers continuing to offer vaccines, multiple vaccine clinics offering both the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson are again on the calendar that will offer vaccine incentives while supplies last.
The two-shot Pfizer vaccine is available to those 12 and older, and the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine to those 18 and older.
Devine noted that those looking to have their school-age, vaccine-eligible children fully vaccinated before the start of the next school year should begin the process now since the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses and it takes six weeks to have full protection once the vaccine series begins.
The Jogan Health Mobile Unit will be set up at Pagosa Springs High School, 800 S. 8th St., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, July 8.
On July 9 and 11, the mobile unit will be at the East Side Market, located on the east end of town, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On July 10, the mobile unit will be at the Pagosa Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. offering only the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
On July 15, the unit will be back at the high school from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Walk-ins are welcome at all of the clinics, though appointments are preferred.
Minors must have a signed parental consent form, which can be completed online when registering or at the clinic.
For more information on the vaccines, area vaccine providers or area vaccine clinics (including making an appointment), visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/.
For more information about vaccine types, safety and eligibility, call (877) 268-2926. To speak to SJBPH call handlers, call (970) 247-5702.
Under the Vaxx for Scratch promotion available in Archuleta County, “Any resident age 18 or older who receives COVID vaccination at a SJBPH clinic in Archuleta County will be offered a $10 Scratch ticket while supplies last. The Scratch tickets have a top prize of up to $500,000,” a SJBPH press release outlines.
Testing available locally
Testing continues to be available through multiple providers, and SJBPH provides free COVID-19 testing in partnership with COVIDCheck Colorado from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday behind the Pagosa Springs Medical Center building at 95 S Pagosa Blvd.
For more information on COVID-19 testing and more, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org.