COVID-19: Region sees increased hospitalizations

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By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

COVID-19 continues to circulate at “significant” levels in the region, with San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) reporting Wednesday that Mercy Regional Medical Center has nine hospitalized COVID patients — the highest number seen since February.

“Clearly, there is a significant amount of COVID circulating in our community,” said Megan Graham, SJBPH communications director and COVID-19 public information officer.

The Omicron subvariant BA.4 is believed to be the most prevalent strain of the virus nationwide right now, Graham reported, with public health officials seeing “a lot” of it in wastewater.

She noted that it is “unsurprising” that so much of the virus is being seen because the subvariant “seems to be more evasive of immune responses than some we’ve seen in the past.”

Wastewater surveillance data shows varying levels of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID) in wastewater treated by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD).

For July 7, 167,000 copies of SARS-CoV-2 were detected per liter. By July 11, that figure had jumped to 525,000 copies per liter. Data for July 14 shows it dropped to 82,700 copies per liter before jumping back up to 407,000 on July 18.

Data for July 21, the most recent available by press time Wednesday, showed 331,000 copies per liter.

PAWSD began submitting wastewater samples to the state for the wastewater monitoring program in late March, with the lowest amount detected being zero in mid-April and the highest being on July 11.

On Tuesday evening, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb explained that while PSMC is seeing COVID patients, it is not seeing “a lot of real sick people with COVID.”

She noted it is “nothing like the early numbers, the early days of this disease.”

Webb also reported that PSMC’s hospital bed capacity has again been lowered. 

She explained that, due to staffing shortages, PSMC has decreased from 11 available beds to five.

As of July 21, Archuleta County remained in level medium on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Community Levels, with La Plata County also sitting in medium.

The CDC’s Community Levels are updated each Thursday, with the CDC website explaining the agency looks at the combination of three metrics — new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population in the past seven days, the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days — to determine the COVID-19 community level.

As of July 21, the CDC reported 13.5 new COVID admissions per 100,000 people and 5.6 percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients for Archuleta County.

Hospital data is determined regionally.

The CDC lists Archuleta County as having 185.33 new cases per 100,000 population over the past seven days.

As of Monday, SJBPH listed Archuleta County as having a one-week rate of 127.2 new cases per 100,000 population and a one-week positivity rate of 11 percent.

Graham noted SJBPH continues to encourage people to get vaccinated and receive booster doses as appropriate, especially with the start of school nearing, and do as much as they can to avoid contracting COVID.

Protein-based Novavax vaccine now available

On July 19, the CDC gave final approval for use of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine in adults aged 18 and older.

The Novavax vaccine was approved as a two-dose primary COVID-19 vaccine series with the two doses separated by three weeks. 

This announcement, a press release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) explains, followed the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ unanimous recommendation and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of emergency use authorization for the vaccine. 

The press release explains that late-stage trials found that Novavax had a 90.4 percent efficacy against mild, moderate and severe disease. 

“While these trials were conducted prior to Omicron the vaccine reportedly shows a ‘broad’ immune response to Omicron including its sub variants BA.4 and BA.5,” the press release states.

The vaccine is also the first protein-based COVID vaccine approved for use.

“Novavax’s vaccine is protein-based like other familiar vaccines such as hepatitis B, HPV, pertussis and tetanus,” the press release reads. “It contains a very small amount of spike protein taken directly from the COVID-19 virus. It also contains an ingredient called an adjuvant, which boosts the immune system. The protein and the adjuvant work together to teach your immune system how to recognize and fight COVID-19. Novavax may be preferable for some people who would rather receive a vaccine other than an mRNA-based vaccine. It may also be clinically recommended for people who can’t get either Pfizer or Moderna. Novavax has not been authorized for a third dose (booster).”

“Getting vaccinated continues to be the easiest, most effective protection against serious illness, hospitalization or death from COVID-19, and we are thrilled that Coloradans now have another vaccination option,” said Dr. Eric France, the CDPHE’s chief medical officer, via the press release. “Some Coloradans have not yet had a single dose of the vaccine and we are hopeful that Novavax will appeal to many of them.”

“Vaccines are the safest, most effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants and help avoid the worst outcomes (severe illness, hospitalization, and death) among those who do become infected. Staying up to date with all recommended doses is the best way to keep up protection for you, your loved ones, and the community,” the press release notes.

For more on the vaccines, eligibility and local providers, visit https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/. More information about COVID-19 vaccines, as well as assistance scheduling an appointment, is available at covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine. The public can also call SJBPH at (970) 247-5702 or Colorado’s Vaccine Hotline at (877) 268-2926 to get help finding a vaccine.

At-home tests and
masks available 

At-home tests and KN95 masks are available free at the SJBPH offices in both Durango and Pagosa Springs, or tests can be ordered directly from the federal government (covid.gov/tests).

More information on testing can be found at https://sjbpublichealth.org/testing/.