State-level decisions result in vaccine mandate, extended public health order

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    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    In a pair of moves at the state level this week, additional people are now required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine dependent upon their place of employment, and other protective measures were extended for another month, until Oct. 1.

    On Monday, the State Board of Health approved emergency rules requiring vaccination for staff in licensed health care settings after Gov. Jared Polis requested that the board implement rules requiring licensed health care facilities to mandate their personnel — including employees, direct contractors, and support staff — who interact with individuals seeking medical care to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

    According to a Monday press release from the state, “At this time, approximately 30% of the healthcare workforce remain unvaccinated. With the rise in the delta variant and increased stress on the healthcare system, ensuring that all workers in licensed healthcare facilities are vaccinated is one of the most effective means the state can take to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the most at-risk Coloradans and end this ongoing pandemic.”

    “From a public health perspective, this is a pretty important step,” San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) Executive Director Liane Jollon said, noting it also helps people who may have delayed care.

    Chandler Griffin, SJBPH COVID-19 public information officer/communications director added that it will hopefully help those who have been putting off visits have an extra layer of comfort that their health care facility is safe.

    “Those visits help a lot with keeping the community healthy,” he said.

    The vaccine requirement is limited to only those health care facilities that are listed in Colorado Revised Statute 25-1.5-103(1)(a)(1). The department does not have authority over individual health care practitioners or staff, nor does it oversee other settings where patients seek medical care including primary care offices and urgent care locations.

    Jollon noted the rules require that affected facilities hire only vaccinated individuals after Oct. 1.

    The Board of Health will convene again in October to consider the rule in a regular session.

    Then, on Tuesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) extended public health order 20-38 with a few changes.

    In addition to a few changes regarding who must require masks for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated individuals, the order further specifies hospital data collection on COVID-19 vaccination status to help public health more precisely track breakthrough cases. 

    “We continue to monitor hospital capacity closely. Between the unvaccinated and those under 12 years of age, adding additional measures and data help us further evaluate. We continue to stress the importance of getting the safe and effective vaccine to help protect Coloradans from serious infection. We’ve also added vaccination requirements for state contractors who enter state facilities,” said Scott Bookman, COVID-19 incident commander, via the CDPHE’s press release. “We support and fully expect local communities to take additional steps to protect their communities given the variability of disease transmission and vaccination across the state.”

    Jollon pointed out that the clarifying language for hospital reporting of utilization and capacity is a sign that there is considerable concern across the state.

    She added that the state opened the hospital transfer system last week and pointed out that the current hospitalization number in the state is similar to last year before the winter surge.

    On Tuesday, State Epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy of the CDPHE noted there were 796 hospitalizations, which she noted tops the spring peak.

    She added that hospitalizations are “overwhelmingly” in unvaccinated adults, at seven times the rate of vaccinated people.

    Bookman explained Tuesday that about 80 percent of ICU beds in the state are in use, but noted there is “significant ventilator capacity” available in the state.

    Following is a brief summary of changes to the state public health order per the CDPHE’s press release:

    “• Community corrections programs and facilities are added to the list of entities that must require masking for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated individuals.

    “• Reiterates that schools must report cases and outbreaks and comply with local and/or state public health requirements, as applicable, for case investigation and disease mitigation, including isolation and quarantine as clarified in accordance with existing law.

    “• CDPHE may require counties whose resident hospitalizations threaten to exceed 85% of hospital or hospital system capacity to report additional data and consult with CDPHE regarding disease mitigation strategies. 

    “• Patient age and vaccination status is included as elements of hospital data reporting.

    “• “Modified hospital ICU bed reporting requirements to differentiate between adult and pediatric beds.

    “• Added vaccination requirements for state contractors who enter state facilities.”

    The amended order went into effect Wednesday, Sept. 1, and will expire at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1 unless extended, rescinded, superseded or amended in writing. 

     The press release from the CDPHE notes the CDPHE and local public health agencies “both have the authority to issue public health orders and enact mandates for disease control measures. Throughout the pandemic, the state has supported and empowered local communities and public health agencies to have stricter protocols in place to reflect local disease transmission, vaccination rates, and other local factors.” 

    How to safely celebrate Labor Day

    “This weekend is Labor Day and we hope everybody enjoys it,” Griffin said before offering a reminder about SJBPH’s current public health advisory, which strongly urges masks and physical distancing in public, indoor places.

    For more information on COVID-19, including SJBPH’s current public health advisory, testing and vaccines, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/.

    “The safest way to enjoy the weekend would be to plan outdoor gatherings and try to celebrate outdoors as much as possible,” he said.

    Masking he added, “is an easy thing to do, and it goes a long way to keeping everybody healthy.”

    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 171.4 cases per 100,000 people — the same as a week prior.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 148.4 Wednesday — down from 161.2 a week prior.

    As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,264 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,240 a week prior. 

    The agency showed Archuleta County was at 6 percent positivity Wednesday.

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

    Archuleta County currently has no active outbreaks, with the Pine Ridge Extended Care Center outbreak closing with two staff cases.

    Griffin noted the risk for outbreaks in Archuleta County remains high, with area outbreaks leading to high case counts due to the transmissibility of the Delta variant.

    He explained a current outbreak in a long-term care facility in La Plata County was up to 11 cases as of Wednesday. 

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

    Vaccinations continue

    SJBPH is seeing a bump in vaccinations over the last couple of weeks, according to Griffin, with a 20 to 25 percent increase in shots administered week to week.

    He noted that some were waiting for a vaccine with full approval, which occurred with the Pfizer vaccine in August.

    He noted that approval is in progress for the Moderna vaccine, while Johnson and Johnson is expected to file for full approval for its vaccine soon.

    “We hope to see this momentum continue,” he said, adding, “If you were someone who’s wait and see on the vaccines for full approval, it’s your turn now, and thank you for doing your part.”

    As of Wednesday, 54 percent of Archuleta County’s total population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 51 percent of the population having completed a vaccine series. 

    Of the eligible population (those 12 and older), 61 percent have received at least one dose, while 58 percent have completed a vaccine series.

    Immunocompromised individuals are currently eligible for vaccine booster shots now, Griffin reiterated, and SJBPH is planning and are prepared should booster shots be approved at the federal level for other populations.

    A list of vaccination clinics, including links to register, are available on SJBPH’s website.

    randi@pagosasun.com