Outbreak to be declared at elementary school

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    Vaccine for kids expected to be OK’d soon

    By Randi Pierce

    Staff Writer

    An outbreak of COVID-19 is expected to be declared soon for Pagosa Springs Elementary School and could appear among the state’s outbreak information and on San Juan Basin Public Health’s (SJBPH) data dashboard next week.

    Archuleta School District Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza informed The SUN of the outbreak via email Tuesday evening, explaining that the district has had 47 cases of confirmed COVID-19 among students and staff so far this school year.

    “The noteworthy info in our case numbers is that we had 5 cases in one kinder class last week,” she wrote. “So that class was put online for 10 days.  SJBPH has labeled that class an outbreak.  It did not impact any other class, so everyone else at the school is still in person.”

    According to SJBPH COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin, the first case was identified on Oct. 20.

    As of Wednesday, five students have tested positive.

    “Our team is working really hard on this investigation,” Griffin said, explaining that disease investigation can help keep the outbreak small and affected people isolated.

    Griffin indicated the outbreak will be added to the state’s map and SJBPH dashboard once it is registered with the state.

    There are currently no other active outbreaks in the county.

    An outbreak is identified as five cases associated with a single facility in a 14-day period, or two cases in a 14-day period in congregate settings.

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

    Vaccine for children
    expected soon

    Griffin suggested the cases at the elementary school illustrate the importance of a COVID-19 vaccine for young kids and having families take advantage of the vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

    That could come as soon as next week.

    On Tuesday, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee recommended that the agency amend the emergency use authorization to allow the Pfizer vaccine for kids aged 5-11.

    That, Griffin indicated, was a big step in having the vaccine be available.

    Following the committee’s recommendation for the vaccine — which has a reduced dose for the younger population — the FDA is expected to make a decision soon, though it had not been made as of press time Wednesday.

    The vaccine will be discussed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices next week, Griffin reported, then the CDC will make its decision.

    “We’ll be ready quickly after the CDC weighs in,” Griffin said, adding that the vaccine could be available as soon as the middle of next week barring any big changes.

    Vaccine boosters
    available

    Last week, the CDC and the U.S. FDA authorized booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines for select individuals, adding to the group of people who are already eligible and receiving Pfizer boosters. 

    The CDC and FDA authorized boosters of Pfizer vaccine, which is approved for ages 12 and up, in late September.

    Following the announcement last week of the additional booster availability, vaccine providers, including SJBPH, began administering the additional doses of the vaccines.

    “We were really encouraged by the turnout last weekend,” Griffin said, explaining that about 250 people attended the agency’s clinic at Pagosa Springs Middle School Saturday and Sunday.

    Vaccine clinics can be found and appointments can be made by visiting: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/. 

    All SJBPH and Jogan Health clinics offer first, second and booster doses of the three authorized vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer are two-dose courses, while Johnson and Johnson is a single dose).

    Griffin also offered a reminder that minor side effects after receiving the vaccine are normal and are the body’s immune reaction to the vaccine.

    The FDA and CDC also approved eligible individuals to “mix and match” and get a different vaccine type for their booster than the vaccine they originally received.

     According to a SJBPH press release, people who originally received the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are eligible for a booster of any vaccine type if they are 65 years of age or older, a high-risk worker, live or work in an institutional setting, or are 18 years of age or older with an underlying health condition. 

    These individuals must be at least six months from the completion of their two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine series.

     People who originally received the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are eligible for a booster of any vaccine type if they are 18 years of age or older. 

    These individuals must be at least two months from the completion of their one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

    “The federal agencies cited scientific research showing that vaccine immunity fades gradually over time, and the positive impact of boosters on preventing severe illness caused by the Delta variant of COVID-19,” the SJBPH press release explains. 

    “The booster eligibility continues to expand, and we hope the community will take advantage of this opportunity to build more immunity and protection from COVID-19. The CDC and FDA have studied the vaccine and booster doses thoroughly—they are safe, and highly effective especially at preventing hospitalization and death,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director, in the press release. “Our community has robust access to COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and our work reaching out to unvaccinated residents to help get them protected from the worst COVID-19 outcomes continues.” 

    The following are several of the underlying health conditions listed by SJBPH for booster eligibility: 

    • Obesity. 

    • Diabetes. 

    • Chronic lung disease. 

    • Significant heart disease. 

    • Chronic kidney disease. 

    • Cancer. 

    • Other underlying health conditions. 

    There are several other groups eligible for a booster, including people in institutional settings or at high risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19: 

    • Health care workers. 

    • Teachers and day care staff. 

    • Grocery workers. 

    • People in long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, prisons or other congregate settings. 

    Moderately to severely immunocompromised people ages 12 and older continue to be eligible for a third dose of vaccine. 

    For the immunocompromised, additional doses should be administered at least four weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Immunocompromised individuals are advised to seek the same mRNA vaccine that they originally received. If the matching vaccine type is not available, immunocompromised individuals may receive the alternative mRNA vaccine. 

    For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines, current eligibility, and details on vaccine clinics and providers, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/.

    Local numbers

    According to SJBPH data, both Archuleta and La Plata counties continue to have ‘High’ transmission according to the CDC. 

    “COVID-19 hospitalizations are putting a strain on Colorado’s hospital system, and some surgeries and procedures are being cancelled in parts of the state,” the press release explains. “The vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations are occurring in the unvaccinated population. In addition to receiving vaccination, and a booster if eligible, residents are strongly advised to wear face coverings in businesses and public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status, per SJBPH’s local Public Health Advisory.”

    According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 350.0 cases per 100,000 people Wednesday — up from 221.4 a week prior.

    According to the CDC, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 309.7 Wednesday — up from 274.2 a week prior.

    The U.S.’s one-week rate is 143.7, down from 159.3 a week prior.

    As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,506 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,453 a week prior. 

    The agency showed Archuleta County was at 12 percent positivity Wednesday, compared to 6 percent the previous week..

    “It’s the continuation of this high Delta wave,” Griffin explained, reiterating it is important to wear a mask in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status. 

    He noted COVID levels and hospitalizations are “as high as they’ve been” since last winter.

    “Please, just understand the risk and mask up, and get the vaccine as soon as you can,” he said, calling masks “critical.”

    SJBPH’s public health advisory related to COVID-19 can be found at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/SJBPH-Third-Amended-Advisory-10.5.2021.pdf.

    randi@pagosasun.com