COVID-19: Eighth local death added, Delta surge continues

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By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) listed an eighth Archuleta County death among COVID-19 cases on its dashboard late last week.

SJBPH COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin reported Wednesday the death was of a middle-aged individual who was not fully vaccinated.

He noted the death is not associated with an outbreak.

According to SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 613.4 cases per 100,000 people Wednesday — up from 306.7 a week prior.

As of Tuesday, SJBPH listed 1,968 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among permanent Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,892 on Dec. 1. 

The agency showed Archuleta County was at 19 percent positivity Wednesday.

Griffin indicated that the continued “severe surge” caused by the Delta variant, which includes a surge in hospitalizations and deaths, has led to increased urgency for those who are eligible to receive a booster dose, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggesting that eligible adults should receive a booster dose.

He explained it’s “never been more important” to be vaccinated and receive a booster dose, noting that Archuleta and La Plata counties are near capacity for ICU, and health care continues to be strained across Colorado.

More than 90 percent of the COVID hospitalizations in southwest Colorado, he explained, are individuals who are not fully vaccinated.

Outbreaks

There continue to be four outbreaks identified in Archuleta County. 

As of Sunday, Pagosa Springs Elementary School’s outbreak was up to 21 cases — 20 students and one staff member. The first case was identified on Oct. 20.

As of Monday, Pagosa Springs Middle School’s outbreak remained at 10 cases — nine students and one staff member. The first case was confirmed on Nov. 2. 

As of Monday, the outbreak at Pagosa Springs High School remained at five cases — three staff members and two students. The first case was confirmed on Oct. 29. 

The vast majority of the cases associated with the school outbreaks, Griffin reported, are either adults or minors who are not vaccinated.

He noted vaccination is the No. 1 thing recommended for parents with kids in school, adding that it is also recommended students mask at school, even if the district does not require it, given the current transmission levels.

Vaccinations and masks, he added, can keep kids in school following exposures.

“Parents do have a choice to send their students to school with a mask,” he said.

As of Sunday, the outbreak at Pine Ridge Extended Care Center included seven cases — six staff members and one resident. The first case was identified on Nov. 11. 

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.

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

Omicron variant

Tuesday afternoon, the state announced two cases of the Omicron, first identified in South Africa, had been discovered in Colorado through genomic sequencing, with both cases in individuals who had recently traveled.

Public health officials across the globe have been working to identify where the variant is already present, as well as key things about the variant, including its transmissibility, the severity of illness it causes, if it evades immunity derived either from infection or vaccination, and if it can outcompete the Delta variant in areas with significant transmission.

“It does appear that this is a highly transmissible variant based on the mutations and also what they’ve seen on the ground in South Africa and places where it’s emerging,” Griffin said, adding that officials are still seeing how Omicron can compete with Delta in areas with higher transmission of the Delta variant.

Griffin added that positive test results from the region continue to be sent to the state lab for sequencing, and SJBPH will let the public know when Omicron is identified in the region and will track if it spreads locally.

Variants confirmed in the area are included on SJBPH’s COVID-19 data dashboard.

Federal health officials, Griffin added, are not sounding the alarm regarding the severity of the Omicron variant, and it does not appear to be dramatically more severe than previous strains of the virus, though more data and analysis are needed before that can be determined definitively.

He added that a preliminary lab study from Pfizer that was released this week indicates that Omicron is not a variant that completely evades immunity, and Pfizer released that a booster is important, especially for preventing severe disease and hospitalization.

Vaccines, boosters
continue to be available

“With our hospitals at capacity and so much transmission occurring, so much spread, you want to be in the group that has as much protection as possible,” Griffin said, clarifying that means being fully vaccinated and receiving a booster dose when eligible.

All three authorized vaccine types continue to be available. Youth ages 5 through 17 are only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. 

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 clinics. 

Booster doses of all three vaccine types also continue to be available. 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).

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/.

Monoclonal antibody treatments

SJBPH is continuing to work with the state to increase access to monoclonal antibody treatment locally.

Conversations are continuing, Griffin explained, and it is looking “promising” that Archuleta County may see increased access to the treatment.

Previously, the treatment was only available following referral by a medical provider, but Colorado recently made it easier for residents to access monoclonal antibody treatment by allowing those who are eligible to self-schedule through the state.

Currently, Pagosa Springs Medical Center is the only provider of monoclonal antibody treatments in Archuleta County, according to the state’s COVID-19 website.

A mobile unit administering monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is located in La Plata County until Dec. 11.

“CDPHE’s mobile unit will provide monoclonal antibody treatment to individuals who are eligible,” a recent SJBPH press release states. “You might be eligible if you have tested positive for COVID-19, your symptoms started within the last 10 days, you aren’t hospitalized or on oxygen due to COVID-19, and you are at risk of getting very sick without treatment. Eligibility for treatment is for people 12 years of age or older. Monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to be effective at preventing hospitalizations among individuals who test positive for COVID-19 and are considered high risk for severe illness.”

More information about monoclonal antibody treatments, eligibility and the CDPHE’s mobile units is available at: https://covid19.colorado.gov/for-coloradans/covid-19-treatments. 

Questions about the mobile unit or monoclonal antibody treatments should be directed to the CDPHE by calling 1-877-COVAXCO (1-877-268-2926).

The state’s mobile unit is set to be at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, located at 2500 Main Ave. in Durango, until Dec. 11, with the site operating from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day except Sunday.

randi@pagosasun.com