Respiratory illnesses continue to circulate at high levels

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By Randi Pierce | Staff Writer

The region and nation continue to deal with a “trifecta of yuck,” as San Juan Basin Public Health’s (SJBPH) Megan Graham called it, with influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) continuing to circulate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all three illnesses are increasing in the nation.

Graham, SJBPH communications director, indicated the circulating illnesses are a reminder to continue to take preventative measures.

RSV is not a reportable disease locally, limiting the amount of local information available, though the CDC website notes, “CDC surveillance has shown an increase in RSV detections and RSV-associated emergency department visits and hospitalizations in multiple U.S. regions, with some regions nearing seasonal peak levels. Clinicians and public health professionals should be aware of increases in respiratory viruses, including RSV.”

Flu

SJBPH’s influenza surveillance indicates that, for the week ending Nov. 26, 16.4 percent of flu tests in Archuleta and La Plata counties came back positive, up from 15.5 percent the week before.

The CDC reports a 25.1 percent positivity rate for the week ending Nov. 26.

One hospitalization had been reported in Archuleta County as of Nov. 26, with none reported in La Plata County.

Graham pointed out more recent data reflects an increase in hospitalizations in the area, though that data was not posted to SJBPH’s website by press time Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) website was reporting 517 hospitalizations in the state due to influenza since Oct. 2.

According to the CDC’s weekly flu report, the agency “estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths from flu.”

It also indicates hospitalizations continue to rise.

It further notes that the cumulative hospitalization rate in the FLuSurv-NET system for the week ending Nov. 26 (week 47) “is higher than the rate observed in week 47 during every previous season since 2010-2011,” and the “number of flu hospital admissions reported in the HHS Protect system during week 47 almost doubled compared with week 46.”

The CDC report further notes “The majority of influenza viruses tested are in the same genetic subclade as and antigenically similar to the influenza viruses included in this season’s influenza vaccine.”

COVID

COVID continues to trend upward nationally, statewide and locally, according to Graham.

Archuleta County continues to move between Community Levels medium and high on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Community Levels for COVID-19.

As of Dec. 1, Archuleta County was in high, as was La Plata County.

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. Hospital data is determined regionally.

As of Dec. 1, the CDC reports 21.2 new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population, 8.1 percent of staffed inpatient beds in use by patients with confirmed COVID-19 and a new case rate of 99.97 per 100,000 people.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH’s COVID-19 data dashboard showed a one-week incidence rate of 65.20 new cases per 100,000 population and 22 deaths among cases.

“Last week, I think largely what pushed both communities into high was hospitalization numbers,” she said.

Graham reported that hospitalizations in SJBPH’s service territory reached more than 10 last week, but, as of Wednesday, three were hospitalized for COVID at Mercy Regional Medical Center.

She noted that, while regional hospitalizations are trending downward over the past week, officials are seeing an increase in levels of COVID in wastewater, which she explained “tends to be an indicating data point that could tell us what might be to come.”

State data reflects rising hospitalizations due to COVID-19, with 126 hospital admissions across the state on Nov. 29 and a seven-day average of 123 hospitalizations per day as of Nov. 29.

For the week of Nov. 29, the agency reports, 440 were hospitalized for COVID.

In Community Level high, masking is advised for all public indoor spaces per the CDC and SJBPH’s public health advisory.

 In Community Level high, the CDC recommends the following individual level prevention steps:

• Wear a high-quality mask or respirator.

• If you are at high risk of getting very sick, consider avoiding nonessential indoor activities in public where you could be exposed.

• If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk for getting very sick, consider self-testing to detect infection before contact, and consider wearing a high-quality mask when indoors with them.

For all community levels, CDC recommends the following individual level prevention steps:

• Stay up to date on vaccination, including recommended booster doses.

• Maintain ventilation improvements.

• Avoid contact with people who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

• Follow recommendations for isolation if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

• Follow the recommendations for what to do if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19.

• If you are at high risk of getting very sick, talk with a health care provider about additional prevention actions.

In additional to local providers continuing to provide COVID vaccine primary series and booster doses, Graham reported Wednesday that the state’s mobile vaccine buses will continue in the area into at least the first part of January.

For information on COVID-19 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.

COVID-19 treatments for people who currently have mild to moderate symptoms and are not in the hospital for COVID-19, but who are at high risk of getting very sick, continue to be available.

For more information on those treatment options or the state’s telehealth program, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-treatments/ or covid19.colorado.gov/treatments.

Masks, at-home COVID tests available 

At-home COVID tests and KN95 masks are available for free at the SJBPH offices in both Durango and Pagosa Springs.

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

Precautions against
respiratory illness

A December update from SJBPH that was released Wednesday explains, “Before getting together with friends and family this holiday season, consider getting your flu shot.”

SJBPH also recommends staying up to date on COVID vaccines.

SJBPH also recommends the following to help prevent the transmission of respiratory illnesses:

• Get vaccinated.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Wash your hands thoroughly and often.

• Cover up with a tissue or upper arm sleeve to cough or sneeze.

• Disinfect potentially contaminated surfaces often.

randi@pagosasun.com