By Randi Pierce
On July 29, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) amended its local public health advisory based on the new masking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that was released last week.
The updated SJBPH advisory urges face coverings in public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status and lowers the minimum age recommended for face coverings from 10 to 2.
Also following the CDC, SJBPH strongly advises schools and higher education institutions require face coverings for all persons in indoor school settings. Both unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals are advised they will still be subject to mandatory quarantine if exposed.
The amendments were made to an existing SJBPH advisory that was issued on May 14.
The advisory continues to recommend additional precautions in public indoor spaces such as 6-foot distancing, ventilation improvements and symptom screening.
In a press release, SJBPH noted it will “update the reissued advisory as-needed based on local case incidence rates, hospitalization data and other metrics.”
The advisory, Brian Devine, SJBPH environmental director and deputy incident commander for the agency’s COVID-19 response, pointed out, still includes the same exemptions it did previously, but that SJBPH is “very much in alignment” with the CDC and the state of Colorado.
With the Delta variant spreading nationwide, the CDC now recommends masks be required in indoor public spaces for all, regardless of vaccine status, for areas of substantial and high disease transmission.
The CDC also recommends that students, teachers, staff and visitors wear masks in schools.
As of July 29, Archuleta County is identified as having “high” transmission by the CDC.
“With the Delta variant spreading in our community, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated right away to protect yourself and your family from serious illness. Until the level of infection in our community drops, we urge you to follow public health advisories whether you are vaccinated or not. This includes wearing a mask in businesses and maintaining 6 feet of distancing between households,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “The renewed commitment to masks will provide additional protection with the more transmissible Delta variant spreading. This has been a long road and we recognize people have pandemic fatigue. But the best way to reduce your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19 is to get vaccinated right away and wear a mask in public indoor settings.”
“The prevalence of the highly transmissible Delta variant is increasing in Colorado and it is believed to be the dominant variant in La Plata and Archuleta counties,” the press release notes. “Statewide, 95 percent of positive tests that were randomly selected for variant sequencing in the most recent week were confirmed as Delta variant cases. The variant may be more likely to make younger age groups sicker than other variants.”
Additionally, the Delta variant is leading to some “breakthrough” cases in the fully vaccinated population and there are indications the fully vaccinated population may be able to transmit the Delta variant to others, the press release reports.
Devine told The SUN Wednesday the rate of breakthrough cases in the region is “right in line” with state and national statistics, with the vaccine still more than 80 percent effective.
He called it a “phenomenally effective vaccine” and indicated that, while the efficacy is lower than it was prior to the arrival of the Delta variant, data from other countries suggests the effectiveness will stay in the current range.
He also pointed out that the Delta variant and the increased number of vaccinated individuals mean that there will be more vaccine breakthroughs.
The press release notes those who are fully vaccinated and who get infected with COVID-19 are likely to be asymptomatic or have less severe illness. The vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death.
“In order to prevent an additional strain on local health care resources and to support the health and safety of the community as a new school year approaches, residents are strongly urged to layer their protection by getting vaccinated and following public health precautions such as wearing masks in businesses,” the press release reads.
SJBPH also reminds parents via the press release to “get eligible students vaccinated right away to have as much immunity as possible by the first day of school.”
The Pfizer vaccine is currently available for 12- to 17-year-olds, with the two-dose series taking at least five weeks from the first shot for individuals to complete the series and reach maximum immunity, the press release explains.
The document further notes SJBPH is closely tracking federal and state guidance that would open eligibility for children under 12 and is prepared, alongside partners, to rapidly vaccinate this population when they become eligible.
Devine noted SJBPH is very closely following new developments in vaccines and has been receiving questions about additional doses, permanent authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and vaccine mandates.
He suggested it’s going to take a “high-level conversation about strategy and responsibilities at a national level” before third vaccine doses are recommended, but that it seems like there will be authorization at some point in the future for additional doses, even if they are not recommended.
He also noted that there have been reports that permanent authorization of the Pfizer vaccine is anticipated around the first week of September.
Devine further noted that SJBPH has assembled some research for employers who are considering mandating vaccine, with that information available by contacting SJBPH.
Archuleta County’s COVID-19 case incidence rate remains above the state’s, but below the nation’s.
According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 164.3 cases per 100,000 people — up from 150.0 on July 21.
According to the CDC, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 86.4 Wednesday — up from 64.5 on July 21. The U.S.’s rate was 177.9 Wednesday, up from 119.8 on July 29.
As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,157 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,135 a week prior.
The agency showed Archuleta County was at 8 percent positivity Wednesday, the same as the previous Wednesday, though that rate rose to 13 percent on July 30.
SJBPH reports that Archuleta County has had three deaths among COVID cases, while the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lists Archuleta as having two deaths among cases.
Devine noted that the time delays and data audits can account for the different figures.
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), 59 percent has received at least one dose, while 56 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.