COVID-19: Incidence rate falls, but caution urged as Omicron variant ‘looms’

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By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

As of Wednesday, San Juan Basin Public Health’s (SJBPH) COVID-19 data dashboard reflected a downturn in cases locally, but the agency warns that it’s too early to celebrate.

“We have seen a very recent downward trend in cases in both counties, which is positive, but it’s too early to celebrate that or confirm it as a trend,” said SJBPH COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin. “During this Delta wave there have been a couple downturns that quickly reverted back up, but the one-week case incidence rate is down significantly from where it was last week, which is good.”

According to the agency’s data dashboard, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 127.2 cases per 100,000 people Wednesday — down from 613.4 a week prior.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 1,990 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among permanent Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,968 a week prior. 

The agency showed Archuleta County was at 5 percent positivity Wednesday, down from 19 percent a week prior.

Griffin indicated that it’s also too soon to let up on protective measures with the Omicron variant looming.

As of Wednesday, the variant had not been detected locally.

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

“What we’re asking of the community is cooperation on masking and vaccines to just bring our case load and hospitalization load down as much as possible with so many unknowns about Omicron,” he said. “Communities that have lower caseloads and more capacity in the hospitals will be better prepared for any kind of spike that could come from the highly transmissible Omicron variant.”

He also reminded that precautions can help with health care for non-COVID reasons, noting that when hospitals are very full as the data shows, that can also affect care for things like car accidents or skiing accidents.

He also suggested that people should do what they can to help out essential health care workers who have been “working tirelessly” the last two years.

Griffin indicated that the best thing an individual can do with Omicron on the horizon is to be fully vaccinated and receive a booster when eligible.

Early indicators show a big difference between people who are fully vaccinated and those who have received a booster for extra protection.

Pfizer’s booster eligibility was amended to those 16 and older recently, Griffin indicated, and vaccine clinics within Archuleta County can accommodate those teens.

He noted that, since teens are very social and busy, the expanded eligibility is good for that age group and suggested SJBPH “would like to see all of the older teams take advantage of that booster dose as soon as they’re able to.

Griffin also reiterated the continued importance of testing around the holidays, particularly before and after travel and if exposed to COVID-19.

He announced that the free community test site behind Pagosa Springs Medical Center will be open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve from 9 a.m. to noon, but will be closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Griffin further pointed out that those testing could have to wait an extra day for results if testing falls right before a federal holiday such as Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.

For more information about testing locally, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/testing/.

Outbreaks

There continue to be four outbreaks identified in Archuleta County. 

As of Dec. 12, Pagosa Springs Elementary School’s outbreak remained at 21 cases — 20 students and one staff member. The first case was identified on Oct. 20.

As of Dec. 12, 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 Dec. 12, the outbreak at Pagosa Springs High School was up to seven cases — three staff members and four students. The first case was confirmed on Oct. 29. 

As of Dec. 8, the outbreak at Pine Ridge Extended Care Center included six cases — five 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/.

Vaccines, boosters
continue to be available

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 16 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

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

That unit, at the La Plata County Fairgrounds (2500 Main Ave. in Durango) is extending its stay through at least Dec. 23, Griffin reported.

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.

“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).

Griffin also reported that work is still being done to provide more access to the treatment locally.

That’s good news, Griffin explained, because the treatment is shown to be highly effective for preventing hospitalizations.

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

randi@pagosasun.com

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