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Sunday, July 25, 2021

COVID-19: State releases school guidance

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

On Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released new guidance for P-12 schools in preparation of the upcoming school year, with that guidance prioritizing in-person learning.

According to a press release on the new guidance, the CDPHE will adopt and clarify school guidance released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and is providing a practical guide for schools, parents, and students on how to operationalize the CDC guidance in the state’s education settings. 

That guide can be found at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/practical-guide-for-operationalizing-cdc-school-guidance.

“We want to make sure that schools remain a safe place, and this plan outlines ways to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19 in the school setting, while facilitating in-person learning,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the CDPHE, via the press release. 

 The guidance model adopted by Colorado, the press release explains, is “designed to empower local public health and local leaders to protect their communities using the mitigation strategies most appropriate to local conditions. The guidance does not constitute statewide requirements, but instead outlines evidence-based best practices for local governments and schools to manage the next stage of the pandemic.”

Brian Devine, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) environmental director and deputy incident commander for the agency’s COVID-19 response, pointed out that the document includes guidance based on a county’s vaccination rate.

According to the guide, “Communities with higher rates of transmission and low vaccination rates should continue to take heightened COVID-19 precautions.”

Per the document, the following criteria constitute higher risk: 

• The community has a vaccination rate under 70 percent among individuals age 12 and older. 

• The school has a vaccination rate under 70 percent among staff and students age 12 and older. 

• The community’s transmission rate is above 35 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.

In addition to vaccination, the press release outlines that the state continues to recommend a layered approach of best practices to COVID-19 prevention. 

“These best practices are described in detail in the Back to School Roadmap, and include ventilation, maximization of outdoor activities, mask wearing, testing, spacing, cohorting, symptom screening, cleaning and disinfecting, and handwashing,” the release states.

“Our data demonstrate a clear association between Colorado’s increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates and decreasing case, hospitalization, and death rates,” said Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist with the CDPHE via the press release. “Yet our unvaccinated Coloradans remain vulnerable to the new variants, especially the Delta variant, which appears to be more likely to make young people ill than previous variants. Because many students have yet to be vaccinated and students under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, we must continue to remain vigilant, take important mitigation steps that can reduce transmission of COVID-19, and address outbreaks in a safe and thoughtful manner.” 

 Devine explained to The SUN that the state is doing more age-group analysis based on the Delta variant in preparation for the school year, with Devine expecting that to include incidence rates and hospitalization rates by age group.

“Colorado’s best defense against COVID-19 is increased vaccinations, as vaccination prevents disruptions to in-person learning,” the state’s press release reads. “Fully vaccinated staff and students won’t have to miss school due to quarantine and fully vaccinated staff and students do not have to wear masks unless they choose to.”

“We have really strong relationships with our school districts and our independent schools to make sure they have all the tools they need to comply with the guidance and for us to do disease investigations within the school setting,” Devine said.

Devine indicated this year will look different based on local factors.

“It’s really hard for us to predict exactly what will happen, but what we do know is the Delta variant spreads very easily in crowded indoor settings where people aren’t wearing masks and aren’t vaccinated, so I think it’s safe to assume we will have Delta-variant outbreaks in the school setting in the fall,” he said.

Local numbers

Archuleta County’s COVID-19 case incidence rate remains above the state’s.

According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 135.7 cases per 100,000 people — down from 192.8 on July 14.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 51.6 Wednesday — up from 35.3 on July 14.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,110 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,093 a week prior.

Thus far, the 19 cases of the Delta variant have been found in samples from Archuleta County sent to the state lab for sequencing, according to the SJBPH website, up from nine on July 14.

The agency showed Archuleta County was at 6 percent positivity Wednesday, compared to 9 percent the previous week.

SJBPH continues to report that Archuleta County has had two deaths among COVID cases, while the CDPHE reports Archuleta County has three.

Over half of the county’s total population (51 percent) had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Wednesday, with 48 percent of the population having completed a vaccine series.

Of the eligible population (those 12 and older), 58 percent has received at least one dose, while 55 percent have completed a vaccine series.

Outbreak reported at
assisted living facility

On Wednesday, SJBPH confirmed an outbreak at BeeHive Homes in Pagosa Springs.

Devine reported six cases as of Wednesday, with those cases being a mix of staff and residents and a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

“We are still investigating multiple potential outbreaks in Archuleta County,” Devine said.

The state’s outbreak information is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid19-outbreak-data.

Vaccine clinics,
promotions continue

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 emphasized the need to complete a vaccine series if opting for a two-dose series, citing that there is a lot of evidence that, while it might have been sufficient to have the protection from only one dose of a two-dose series previously, that is no longer the case.

“A single dose of a two-dose series appears to be ineffective against the Delta variant,” he said.

Devine noted people have a “stark” choice to make with the Delta variant: Get vaccinated and be unlikely to test positive or (if testing positive) be hospitalized, or mostly likely catch the Delta variant if unvaccinated.

With more events moving indoors in the fall, it’s likely unvaccinated people will test positive after being exposed to the Delta variant.

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 22, and next Thursday, July 29.

On July 23 and 25, 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 24, the mobile unit will be at the Pagosa Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A unit will also be at the Turkey Springs Trading Post, located at 11497 U.S. 160, on July 28, from 3 to 6 p.m.

A unit will also be at the Pagosa Springs Walmart from 2 to 7 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 or seeing others that have been scheduled), 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.

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.

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