COVID-19: Sixth death identified, hospital availability remains a concern

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By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

A sixth death among Archuleta County COVID-19 cases was added to San Juan Basin Public Health’s COVID-19 data dashboard Tuesday — the second death among cases identified this month.

SJBPH COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin reported to The SUN the individual was a middle-aged adult who passed away at a hospital outside its jurisdiction.

He noted the individual was unvaccinated.

SJBPH offered condolences to the family and friends of the individual.

The death comes as COVID continues to surge locally and around the state, and local and state health officials continue to urge people to follow guidelines aimed at lowering the rate of transmission.

According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 665.8 cases per 100,000 people Wednesday — up from 658.3 a week prior, but lower than the rate of 778.0 posted on the dashboard on Nov. 12.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,738 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among permanent Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,646 the week prior. 

The agency showed Archuleta County was at 18 percent positivity Wednesday, down from 19 percent the previous week and 21 percent on Nov. 12.

According to the CDC, Colorado’s seven-day incidence rate was 360.9 Wednesday — down from 363.1 a week prior.

The U.S.’s one-week rate is 176.4, up from 157.3 a week prior.

“Our situation continues to be very serious,” Griffin noted Wednesday, adding that the most concerning metrics are the hospitalizations in the region and statewide.

On Wednesday, Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander, reported that 1,526 people were hospitalized, with the state continuing its upward trend.

The peak in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 came in December of 2020 when 1,847 people were hospitalized.

The current trajectory, Bookman noted, is heading in that direction, and there are currently fewer hospital beds available in the state than at any other point during the pandemic.

“This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Bookman said, noting about 80 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb informed the Upper San Juan Health Service District Board of Directors Tuesday evening that PSMC continues to experience issues with transferring patients, both with COVID and with other conditions, to higher levels of care, adding that there were four days the hospital was unable to transfer patients and had to keep patients locally that otherwise would have been transferred.

She noted that had eased up “a little” in the last few days.

She also noted the medical center has created a fast-track infectious disease area by relocating the cancer and blood disorder treatment area to serve the numbers of sick people presenting with COVID symptoms, and PSMC continues to be short-staffed.

PSMC has also been administering monoclonal antibodies to eligible patients, she noted.

“This has been pretty overwhelming for our system,” she said.

A Nov. 12 press release from SJBPH discusses the issue further, explaining, “Colorado’s COVID-19 surge has the potential to lead to the rationing of health care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.”

Last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) activated crisis standards of care guidelines for hospitals, allowing them emergency flexibility in how they allocate resources and staffing, and provide care to patients. 

Tier 3 of the Combined Hospital Transfer Center has also been activated and is the highest tier available to manage patient transfers on a statewide level.

Bookman explained Wednesday the state is in the early stages of its work to have 500 additional hospital beds available in the state by Dec. 15.

Officials urge masking

State and local health officials continue to urge masking in public indoor spaces to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We should all be wearing masks right now,” regardless of if there’s a state mandate or not, Bookman said.

Local public health officials and associations throughout the state have called on the state to implement a statewide mask order, with Griffin explaining there is confidence a mask order would be the “most effective” thing that could be done immediately.

A SJBPH press release issued on Nov. 12 suggests, “Masks are cost effective, minimally intrusive, and are proven to reduce transmission. A statewide mask order should be temporary, and once Colorado makes progress toward flattening the curve and averts further crippling of our overstretched health care system, a statewide order should have county or regional metrics allowing for customization and loosening of precautions.” 

Griffin also suggested getting vaccinated, receiving a vaccine booster when eligible, fully adhering to SJBPH’s public health advisory and physical distancing.

The SJBPH press release notes that, for local governments, schools and businesses, full adherence to the advisory means requiring a mask for entry into their facilities and indoor spaces.

“We can take these steps together at the community level,” Griffin said.

SJBPH’s public health advisory related to COVID-19, which was updated last week, can be found at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/advisories-and-orders/.

Governor expands
booster eligibility in state

Last week, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order declaring all of Colorado a high-risk, high-transmission area for COVID-19, making everyone 18 and older eligible for a booster shot of a vaccine as long as they are far enough past receiving their initial dose(s).

“We urge people to take advantage of that right away,” Griffin said, adding there is plenty of capacity at Archuleta County vaccine clinics to deliver initial and booster doses.

Those 18 and older who were previously vaccinated are eligible for a booster dose two months after receiving the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and six months after receiving an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna).

“This statewide COVID-19 surge is extremely serious and is being driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated. With hospitals on the brink of exceeding capacity, residents should mask up and get the vaccine or a booster dose right away. The vaccine and boosters are a critical tool available to community members to prevent them from being hospitalized with COVID-19,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH.

Vaccines available for ages 5 and up

All three authorized vaccine types continue to be available, with a vaccine available for those ages 5 and up.

Youth ages 5 through 17 are only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, with the dose for those who are 5 to 11 years old being smaller and administered with smaller needles. 

Parents and guardians are required to provide consent for minors to be vaccinated. The vaccine is free, and no ID is required. 

Although advance registration is preferred, walk-ins are also welcome at upcoming clinics.  

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

Testing, vaccine site schedules to change due to Thanksgiving

Local test and vaccine availability will change next week due to Thanksgiving, with the community testing site slated to be closed on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, and no vaccine clinics scheduled that day.

Griffin reported the community testing site, located behind PSMC, will reopen on Saturday, Nov. 27.

Griffin also noted that anyone seeking to test and have results before Thanksgiving should test on or before Monday, Nov. 22, since the turnaround time for the PCR tests is 24 to 72 hours.

Two outbreaks reported in Archuleta County

Two outbreaks have been identified in Archuleta County, with one new one identified this week.

That outbreak, Griffin reported, is at Pine Ridge Extended Care Center, with three staff cases identified.

The vaccination status of two of the individuals is unknown, Griffin indicated, while the other was fully vaccinated.

The first case was identified on Nov. 11, Griffin noted. 

The outbreak at Pagosa Springs Elementary School continues to grow.

Griffin explained the first case was identified on Oct. 20. As of Oct. 27, five cases had been identified.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 17, 12 cases, all students, had been identified.

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, such as long-term care facilities.

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

randi@pagosasun.com