Medical center restricting visitors due to rising COVID cases

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    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    On Wednesday afternoon, Pagosa Springs Medical Center announced that, due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, it is again restricting visitor access.

    “Community transmission through respiratory droplets has been well-established for COVID-19,” a statement from Chief Operating Officer/Chief Nursing Officer Kathee Douglas states. “Visitors are highly discouraged from accompanying patients to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable patients, other community members and PSMC healthcare workers.”

    The statement indicates that visitors essential for helping to provide patient care will be allowed in the following circumstances:

    • Parent of a minor child in need of care.

    • End-of-life issues.

    • Family member or designated assistance person of patient that requires support (i.e. cancer patient making treatment decisions or individuals with disabilities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act).

    Any approved visitor must screen negative prior to entry, the statement notes. No other visitors will be allowed.

    PSMC also announced Wednesday that, due to severe staffing shortages, it is unable to offer COVID-19 vaccine boosters currently.

    The statement, also from Douglas, notes that PSMC will honor existing vaccine appointments. 

    U.S. announces plan for vaccine booster shots

    On Wednesday morning, U.S. health officials announced plans to begin administering COVID-19 booster shots for Americans in September.

    That, however, is dependent upon a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    Currently, only immunocompromised people are eligible for a third vaccine dose. For more information on who is eligible, see related article on page A8.

    After acknowledging that the vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S. are “remarkably effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant,” a Wednesday statement from a group of the nation’s top health officials recognizes that many vaccines see reduced effectiveness over time and suggests that additional vaccine doses could be needed to provide long-lasting protection. 

    It further explains that health officials have been “analyzing the scientific data closely from the United States and around the world to understand how long this protection will last and how we might maximize this protection.” 

    According to the statement, “The available data make very clear that protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time following the initial doses of vaccination, and in association with the dominance of the Delta variant, we are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease. Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. For that reason, we conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”

    The statement is attributed to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the FDA; Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general; Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for Health; Dr. David Kessler, chief science officer for the COVID-19 Response; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

    “We have developed a plan to begin offering these booster shots this fall subject to FDA conducting an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issuing booster dose recommendations based on a thorough review of the evidence,” the statement continues. “We are prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting 8 months after an individual’s second dose.”

    The statement indicates that the booster rollout will follow the same order that the original vaccine rollout did.

    The statement later notes, “We also anticipate booster shots will likely be needed for people who received the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. Administration of the J&J vaccine did not begin in the U.S. until March 2021, and we expect more data on J&J in the next few weeks. With those data in hand, we will keep the public informed with a timely plan for J&J booster shots as well.”

    According to San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) COVID-19 Public Information Officer Chandler Griffin, “State epidemiological data shows slight decreases in vaccine effectiveness in the face of the highly transmissible Delta variant.”

    According to data from the state, Griffin relayed, vaccine efficacy is in the “mid- to high 70 percentiles” across all age groups.

    “These are still tremendously effective vaccines,” he said, noting that yearly flu vaccines can be a little over 50 percent effective.

    He added the vaccines are especially effective in preventing hospitalization and death.

    Vaccine efficacy for preventing hospitalization, he said, ranges from the high 80s to mid-90s in terms of percent depending on the age range, with efficacy relating to hospitalization at 86 percent for those 70 years of age and older.

    Since July 1, he added later, 92 percent of deaths statewide due to COVID were in the unvaccinated population.

    “They’re very effective vaccines, but not 100 percent, so they will not guarantee that you will not get COVID, hence our local mask advisory,” Griffin said, noting that SJBPH’s current advisory “strongly urges” all residents — whether vaccinated or not — to wear masks in businesses and other public indoor places.

    For more on SJBPH’s advisory, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/advisories-and-orders/.

    Local numbers

    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 192.8 cases per 100,000 people — down from 228.5 on Aug. 5.

    According to the CDC, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 109.9 Wednesday — up from 93.3 on Aug. 11. The U.S.’s rate was 270.6 Wednesday, up from 232.1 on Aug. 11.

    As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,216 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,190 a week prior. 

    According to Griffin, Archuleta County has had 54 documented breakthrough infections since Jan. 1, out of 728 total positive cases in that period of time.

    The agency showed Archuleta County was at 7 percent positivity Wednesday.

    SJBPH reports that Archuleta County has had three deaths among COVID cases.

    Over half of the county’s total population (53 percent) had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Wednesday, with 50 percent of the population having completed a vaccine series.

    Of the eligible population (those 12 and older), 60 percent have received at least one dose, while 57 percent have completed a vaccine series.

    Archuleta County has two active outbreaks: Beehive Homes and Pine Ridge Extended Care Center.

    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 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), 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.

    randi@pagosasun.com