COVID-19: Case rates, hospitalizations remain high

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By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

Archuleta County continues to experience high levels of COVID-19 transmission, but good news may be on the horizon.

According to San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH), Archuleta County’s seven-day cumulative incidence rate was 1,563 cases per 100,000 people Wednesday — up from 1,264 cases a week prior. 

Colorado’s rate was 1,617.8 as of Wednesday, and the nation’s was 1,478.6.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed 2,516 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 among permanent Archuleta County residents since late March 2020, up from 2,297 a week prior.

Archuleta County has had 307 visitor cases since March 2020. 

The agency showed Archuleta County was at 34 percent positivity Wednesday, up from 29 percent a week prior.

Archuleta County has had nine deaths among COVID cases.

But, according to SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon and COVID-19 Public Information Officer/Communications Director Chandler Griffin, the state is starting to see what could be early indications that Colorado is starting to see a peak in the Omicron wave.

“Around the country they’re showing that the states that had the earliest Omicron stages are starting to show that their Omicron surges have peaked. And, there is some indication that Colorado was on the early side of this, probably due to our winter tourism, which means that we could likely in the state of Colorado be ahead of other states and be starting to see the first signs of a peak,” Jollon said.

But, Jollon continued, the good news comes with caveats.

 The first, she explained, is the state is recognizing it has a data backlog, which could mean the early signs of a plateau or decline could be “wiped out if they reconcile their backlog.”

The second, she noted, is that there is starting to be a body of evidence that indicates the Omicron wave plateaus and declines more slowly than it climbed.

“If that’s the case, seeing the first signs of a potential plateau or a potential peak are still really good because it’s not still going up, but it’s maybe not gonna come down as fast as people were hoping,” Jollon said.

She added that other cities and countries have also not seen hospitalizations decline as quickly as cases. 

“Right now, the biggest danger of the Omicron surge is just the high volume of cases has led to really, really high numbers of hospitalized, mostly unvaccinated individuals,” she said, adding there are concerns that the number of hospitalized individuals won’t come down quickly enough to relieve pressure on the health care system.

That then interferes with care not only for COVID patients, but also anyone else who needs hospital care, she noted.

Jollon explained that the state has always indicated that 2,000 hospitalizations due to COVID at any time would “likely breach the health care system completely.”

Colorado approached that number in 2020 prior to vaccines being available, she noted, and began to approach it again during the Delta wave.

But while hospitalization numbers for the state’s Delta wave were subsiding in much of the state in December 2021, this region did not experience that, she explained.

“Our local southwest Colorado hospitalizations remained stubbornly high through all of December of 2021, so we went into the Omicron wave with an extraordinarily strained health care system that had no relief in between Delta and Omicron,” she said. “We have now seen the Omicron surge surpass the Delta numbers.”

This week, Jollon noted, about 90 percent of those hospitalized for COVID have been unvaccinated.

But, Griffin noted, SJBPH is seeing strong utilization of community testing resources, and continues to have people come in for first, second and booster vaccine doses.

Griffin noted receiving the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be important, with those who are up to date on vaccines typically experiencing less-severe symptoms and sometimes a shorter length of illness.

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

Federal government launches site to order free tests

On Tuesday, the U.S. government launched www.covidtests.gov, with every home in the U.S. is eligible to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests.

The tests are rapid antigen tests.

SJBPH implements
prioritization plan for contact tracing

Due to the high volume of cases, SJBPH contact tracers no longer have capacity to reach every positive case via phone call, a Jan. 11 press release from SJBPH states. 

It explains that SJBPH has implemented a prioritization plan that allows contact tracers to call high-priority cases. 

“SJBPH continues to send text messages each day to all reported positive cases with guidance on how to isolate. Text messages are also sent each day to close contacts of positive cases with quarantine guidance, although SJBPH is unable to identify every exposure during the unprecedented surge currently occurring in the community,” the press release explains. “Information about isolation and quarantine is available on the SJBPH website. Community members are also encouraged to call SJBPH with any questions regarding quarantine and isolation (970-247-5702).”

I tested positive at home. What do I do now?

Those who receive a positive result on an at-home test who are not in need of immediate medical care can report their test result, ask questions and receive isolation and quarantine guidance by calling (970) 247-5702 or either of SJBPH’s offices in Pagosa Springs and Durango, Griffin previously explained.

Testing sites remain open

Community testing sites remain open and are free to the general public, though the SJBPH press release notes the testing sites are experiencing high volume at this time, and the community is strongly urged to make an appointment and show up on time. 

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

Vaccines, boosters,
treatment available

The COVID-19 vaccine is currently available to all community members ages 5 and up. Residents under the age of 18 are only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine at this time. 

All community members ages 12 and up may receive a booster five months after completing an initial series of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. For adults who received the Johnson and Johnson single dose vaccine, the timeline for booster eligibility is two months. Minors are only eligible for the Pfizer booster.

According to the press release, “Receiving a booster is shown to drastically increase protection from severe illness, and clinics with ample supply of all three vaccine types are widely available in both La Plata and Archuleta counties. All SJBPH and Jogan Health clinics can offer first, second, and booster doses for those who are eligible. The full schedule of vaccine clinics and providers is available online with convenient dates and times across both counties.”

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 treatment continues to be available at Pagosa Springs Medical Center, though Jollon cautioned recently that supplies may be limited.

For more information about COVID-19 treatments, including to schedule visit: https://covid19.colorado.gov/getting-covid-19-treatment.

randi@pagosasun.com