COVID-19: Antibody treatment availability expanded

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By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

Late last week, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) announced the expansion of monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 at Pagosa Springs Medical Center through help from the state of Colorado.

The press release notes availability is now Monday through Friday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. (with the last appointment at 4 p.m.). This expansion will allow for 15 appointments per day.

PSMC CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb reported to the Upper San Juan Health Service District Board of Directors Tuesday evening that the state is helping by providing four staff members who are helping within the monoclonal antibody area, freeing up PSMC staff who normally work in other parts of the facility.

They started Monday and PSMC is trying to get more people, she noted, adding she is thankful local people were able to find housing for them.

How to access
treatment at PSMC 

PSMC is located at 95 S. Pagosa Blvd.

According to the SJBPH press release, patients with an appointment should check in at the FastTrack Aspen Room Door at the northeast corner of the building. 

Eligible individuals can sign up for appointments at PSMC on a platform provided by Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE, see below for eligibility information).

Questions about monoclonal antibody treatments at PSMC can be directed to (970) 507-3756.

“Monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to be effective at preventing hospitalizations for people who test positive for COVID-19 and are considered high risk for severe illness,” the press release explains.

SJBPH COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin explained the treatment has been shown to decrease risk of hospitalization, but is not meant to be a replacement for vaccines, especially with the Omicron variant emerging.

He noted there are questions about the efficacy that public health experts and scientists are looking into with the treatment and Omicron, but those questions do not exist about the efficacy of being fully vaccinated and receiving a booster.

The treatment, he noted, is available regardless of vaccination status and is free. 

The treatment, according to SJBPH, is for people 12 years of age and older who have tested positive for COVID-19, with symptom onset within the last 10 days, who aren’t hospitalized or on oxygen due to COVID-19, and are at risk of getting very sick without treatment. The treatment is free, no referral is required and is available to people regardless of vaccination status.

 As part of the appointment-making process, patients will complete a screening form to determine eligibility for the therapy, the press release explains. At the time of the appointment, a health care provider will review the screening form and must provide authorization for a patient to receive this therapy. 

According to the CDPHE, the on-site review of the screening questions and authorization to receive treatment will occur in just minutes in most cases. 

More information about monoclonal antibody treatments, eligibility and the CDPHE’s mobile units is available on the CDPHE website. Questions about the mobile unit or monoclonal antibody treatments should be directed to CDPHE by calling 1-877-COVAXCO (1-877-268-2926). 

Monoclonal antibody treatments may also be available through existing health care providers in the region. The public is directed to first consult with their physician for a referral if seeking monoclonal antibody treatment from a local hospital, the press release notes.

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

Local testing changes

Webb announced Tuesday evening that PSMC is not currently able to do same-day COVID-19 testing unless a patient is seriously ill or a doctor needs the test to determine treatment of a patient.

She cited severe staffing shortages and explained the lab does not currently have enough personnel to run the tests while also providing services to departments such as the Emergency Department.

In addition, Griffin explained that the community testing site located behind PSMC will be closed on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

However, he noted that the site will be open from 9 a.m. to noon on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31.

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

Omicron identified in
La Plata County

Griffin reported Wednesday that La Plata County has its first confirmed case of Omicron.

The sample in the case was collected on Dec. 17, Griffin reported, and the individual had traveled “out of state” prior to infection.

He noted SJBPH is actively gathering more information about the case, but community spread is suspected based on how long ago the sample was taken and based on the community spread being seen in other mountain communities and elsewhere.

“We expect that Omicron is circulating throughout our jurisdiction,” he said, noting he anticipates Archuleta County will have a confirmed case in the coming days and there may be a surge in the coming days and weeks. 

He suggested the community should not panic, but should take a layered approach to protections:

• Avoid large indoor gatherings and decrease interactions in the community.

• Be fully vaccinated and receive a booster shot.

• Wear a clean, well-fitting mask when in public indoor places.

• Take part in outdoor activities to enjoy the winter season.

He further noted Omicron is highly transmissible and is likely to outcompete Delta in the area.

“Please act as if Omicron is here, because we have good reason to believe it is,” he said.

While it is believed Omicron may be less severe, Griffin noted that doesn’t mean it won’t lead to more hospitalizations due to its ability to infect more people.

He noted it is clear there will be more breakthrough infections.

He explained between 90 and 100 percent of hospitalizations for COVID-19 are unvaccinated individuals.

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/.

Local numbers

According to the SJBPH, Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 246.9 cases per 100,000 people Wednesday — up from 127.2 cases on Dec. 15 and 194.5 on Dec. 22.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 2,053 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among permanent Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 1,990 on Dec. 15 and 2,017 on Dec. 22. 

The agency showed Archuleta County was at 10.9 percent positivity Wednesday, up from 5 percent on Dec. 15 and 8 percent on Dec. 22.

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

Archuleta County has had nine deaths among COVID cases.

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

Local outbreaks

There continue to be four outbreaks identified in Archuleta County.

The outbreaks at Pagosa Springs Elementary School and Pine Ridge Extended Care Center have been closed, Griffin reported.

An outbreak was identified at the Archuleta County jail. Griffin reported that, as of Monday, the outbreak included five cases — two staff members and three inmates. The first case was identified on Dec. 4. 

As of Monday, Pagosa Springs Middle School’s outbreak was up to 12 cases — 11 students and one staff member. The first case was confirmed on Nov. 2. 

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

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/.

Isolation, quarantine guidelines change

On Dec. 27, the CDPHE updated its guidance to match new recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding COVID-19 isolation and quarantine for health care workers and the general population.

The following information is provided by the CDPHE.

People who live or work in residential or congregate living settings should continue to follow the isolation and quarantine guidance for their setting to mitigate the risk of transmission within the facility.

The updated guidance reduces the recommended time in isolation for those in the general population with COVID-19 from 10 to five days, if asymptomatic on day five, followed by an additional five days of wearing a mask when around others. 

This change is based on data showing that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the course of illness. 

For those who have been exposed to COVID-19, the CDC now recommends quarantine for five days followed by mask use for an additional five days for people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second Pfizer or Moderna dose (or more than two months after the Johnson and Johnson, or J&J vaccine) and have not yet received a third dose (or second dose if receiving J&J). Alternatively, for those persons for whom a five-day quarantine is not feasible, wearing a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days is acceptable. People who have recently completed their primary vaccination series (within six months of their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or within two months of their J&J dose) or who have received their third dose (or second dose if receiving J&J) do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. 

Regardless of vaccination status, the CDC recommends testing on day five after exposure or immediately if symptoms develop.

The new guidance also recommends asymptomatic health care providers who have received all recommended vaccines — three doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of J&J with a second dose more than two months after the initial vaccine — no longer need to be excluded from work after a higher-risk COVID-19 exposure. Residential care facility staff should continue to follow current CDPHE guidance, when applicable.

randi@pagosasun.com