By Randi Pierce
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance recommending that individuals in areas with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission levels wear face coverings in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC’s website explains, “In the United States, COVID-19 cases and deaths have markedly declined since their peak in early January 2021, due in part to increased vaccination coverage (1). However, during June 19–July 23, 2021, COVID-19 cases increased approximately 300% nationally, followed by increases in hospitalizations and deaths, driven by the highly transmissible B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant* of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”
After explaining that the authorized vaccines offer “high levels of protection against severe illness and death from infection with the Delta variant and other currently circulating variants of the virus,” the website explains that vaccine uptake has slowed nationally and widely varies by state (from 33.9 percent to 67.2 percent) and county (from 8.8 percent to 89 percent).
“Unvaccinated persons,” it states, “as well as persons with certain immunocompromising conditions (3), remain at substantial risk for infection, severe illness, and death, especially in areas where the level of SARS-CoV-2 community transmission is high. The Delta variant is more than two times as transmissible as the original strains circulating at the start of the pandemic and is causing large, rapid increases in infections, which could compromise the capacity of some local and regional health care systems to provide medical care for the communities they serve.”
The guidance, which relates to implementing prevention strategies, suggests that five factors be taken into account in determining what prevention strategies are appropriate: the level of community transmission, health system capacity, vaccination coverage, the capacity for early detection of increases in cases and the populations at increased risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19.
“Among strategies to prevent COVID-19, CDC recommends all unvaccinated persons wear masks in public indoor settings. Based on emerging evidence on the Delta variant (2), CDC also recommends that fully vaccinated persons wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. Fully vaccinated persons might consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings, regardless of transmission level, if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or is at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in their household is unvaccinated (including children aged <12 years who are currently ineligible for vaccination),” the website states.
Archuleta County falls into the high transmission category per the CDC’s guidelines, having a transmission rate higher than 100 new cases per 100,000 population in a seven-day period.
The CDC’s new guidance largely aligns with what was already in place locally through San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH).
“The good news for us is our local public health advisory that’s been in effect since May 14 is very similar to the new CDC guidance that was published yesterday,” Brian Devine, SJBPH environmental director and deputy incident commander for the agency’s COVID-19 response, said Wednesday. “So, to a large extent we were already recommending that people continue to wear masks in public indoor spaces.”
Devine acknowledged there are differences between the standing public health advisory and the CDC’s new recommendations, which is based on more recent data, but that SJBPH continued to be concerned about more-transmissible variants and elevated rates of transmission in the communities it serves and left its advisory in place.
Devine indicated that SJBPH will evaluate its advisory after the state announces any changes to state guidance documents.
The CDC recommends masking down to age 2, while SJBPH’s advisory recommends masking down to age 10, which was consistent with the state’s guidance.
Additionally, the CDC’s new guidance suggests that people should mask in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccine status, while SJBPH’s advisory suggests masking in such settings unless everyone present is vaccinated.
The CDC’s new guidance also recommends everyone masking in school settings.
“I think they’ve recognized that there’s going to be limited ability around the country to do other kinds of protective measures in the schools,” Devine said, adding, “We concur with this recommendation.”
Devine noted that SJBPH is now meeting with its school districts and independent schools weekly, as they did last year, to continue to provide “science-based recommendations, evidence-based recommendations to keep their students and staff as healthy as possible.”
More on the CDC’s new recommendations is available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7030e2.htm.
Archuleta County’s COVID-19 case incidence rate remains above the state’s and nation’s.
According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 150.0 cases per 100,000 people — up from 135.7 on July 21.
According to the CDC, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 64.5 Wednesday — up from 51.6 on July 21. The U.S.’s rate was 119.8 on July 29.
As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,135 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,110 a week prior.
Thus far, 32 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 19 on July 14.
The agency showed Archuleta County was at 8 percent positivity Wednesday, compared to 6 percent the previous week.
SJBPH reports that Archuleta County has had three deaths among COVID cases, while the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment revised its total and lists Archuleta as having two deaths among cases.
On Wednesday, Devine reported that Archuleta County’s most recent death among COVID cases occurred approximately six days prior and was an older adult.
Over half of the county’s total population (52 percent) had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Wednesday, with 49 percent of the population having completed a vaccine series.
Of the eligible population (those 12 and older), 58 percent have received at least one dose, while 55 percent have completed a vaccine series.
Two outbreaks continue to be reported for Archuleta County.
The state’s outbreak information is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/covid19-outbreak-data.
In addition to local providers continuing to offer vaccines, multiple vaccine clinics offering both the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson continue to be scheduled and 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.
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.