On Sunday, the New York Times’ COVID-19 dashboard, which the newspaper uses to track cases in places across the U.S., looked horrifying — if you were a resident of Ouray County, anyway. The newspaper’s indicator colored the county deep purple, and labeled residents (and visitors) “at highest risk” of contracting the virus.
By Wednesday, the Times’ indicator reported, cases were down 22 percent in Ouray County; down 19 percent in San Miguel County, and had fallen in Mesa County — a notorious regional hotspot — by 35 percent.
That was the good news. Cases were up 47 percent in nearby Montrose County, and 42 percent in Delta County.
“Our percent-positivity” — that is, percentage of positive cases — “is high. It looks really bad,” Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery acknowledged. “But the reality is, not many people are being tested these days. If only two were tested, and one was positive, that’s a 50 percent positivity rate. The reality is, I keep looking at our cumulative rate of cases, and sometimes it’s one case a day, sometimes two. It’s really low. We had a new case come in Monday, the first since July 14.”
The case involved an 80-year-old, fully vaccinated woman who died of COVID-19. “She tested positive, and she was gone the next day,” Kingery said. “Her husband doesn’t want to talk to us. We get that — there’s not a lot we can do to twist people’s arms.” But it surely makes contact tracing difficult.
“It’s a hard messaage,” Kingery added. “This is a great vaccine, but it’s not 100 percent effective. Sometimes people feel invincible once they have it. I liken getting the vaccine to putting on a good, bomber raincoat. If it’s drizzling, you’re good. If there’s a monsoon outside” — you might liken a monsoon to high rates of the virus circulating in a given region — “You’re probably going to get a little wet underneath. There’s still a chance for people to get infected. There’s still room for Delta to sneak through.” (The highly-transmissible Delta variant of the virus, currently raging in under-vaccinated regions of the U.S., was first identified in Colorado in Mesa County).
“Vaccines are our way out of this virus,” Kingery said. “In April alone, we gave over 300 doses. We were down to 21 in the past month. This week, we’ve given 8 from our office.”
Ridgway’s highly popular annual Concert Series, held in Town Park weekly each July, has returned again this year: admission is free at this annual event, where food vendors offer snacks, and “local beer, margaritas & wine,” according to the promotional poster, all flow.
Tonight, the Travelin’ McCourys will be the headliners; next week, Ozomatli will play. “We’re bringing vaccine doses” to the concerts, Kingery said. Mask wearing at this outdoor event will be optional. And while the policy recently went into effect for Los Angeles County residents and visitors indoors — both vaccinated and unvaccinated alike —that’s unlikely in Ouray County.
“Nothing’s happening” on that front, Kingery said. “Ultimately it would be myself writing and signing a public health order, but it’s not just me in a silo,” added the Midwestern native, who invoked the iconic grain-storage tower as a symbol of isolation. Were such a mandate to take place, “it would be me in consultation with Doctor Gates, our medical officer, and our board of health,” Kingery added. “As of now, those conversations are not taking place.”
Which is not to say Kingery doesn’t think about such things — or worry about the future. “We get a pretty high rate of visitors from other (neighboring) counties. I know the Delta variant is here,” he said. “We have to be more careful. There’s still a lot of hesitancy about vaccines out there, and it frustrates me: The virus doesn’t care who you are, or how you voted. The longer we wait, the more time this virus has to circulate, and to mutate. Unprotected people are incubators for these variants. That’s what worries me: what if one variant breaks through to the point where it becomes a super-variant, to the point where no one is protected? When you look across the Earth, there are countries that would do anything for a vaccine. And we’re sitting here, trying to pay money to people to take them. It’s crazy.”