Vaccines are readily available and vaccination rates in the county are admirable. The timing on when to relax restrictions such as the statewide mask mandate and the COVID-19 dial are being debated in Denver, and the state may move to Level Blue by Monday. Offseason, which always spells a steep drop-off in visitors, is tantalizingly near. Even with the end seemingly in sight, county officials are taking factors such as increased travel and a decline in testing numbers, among other metrics, into account as they ponder the next move in a health crisis that has stretched a little more than a year. On Wednesday, the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners, sitting as the board of public health, received its weekly update from county public health director Grace Franklin.
Her report, though not without optimistic notes, was one of frank uncertainty, mostly about what state projections show about the timing of removing the mask mandate. More will be known today (Thursday), once state public health officials and the governor’s office meet to discuss a shift in policy, but Franklin said waiting until May 5 — April 5 is currently on the table — would be more prudent, based on state COVID-19 metrics. Waiting until May will prevent large numbers of deaths and hospitalizations, Franklin explained in her report. A concern, she said, is removing both the COVID dial and the mask mandate, which could be misleading in terms of making people think the pandemic is over.
“There's a lot of uncertainties specifically with the variants of concern (the B.1.1.7 and the so-called California variant) as well as just national trends,” she said. “If both the dial and the statewide mask order are removed at the same time it will create these substantial changes in behavior where people will perceive that the pandemic is over and that none of the five commitments should be of a concern, which is a really hard thing to model and project.”
Getting vaccinated will go far to not only protect vulnerable populations, but also bring the county closer to herd immunity, which is between 60-80 percent. Current projections reveal that 4,815 county residents will be vaccinated by May 21.
“That's about 74 percent of our adult population, however, when you look at our estimated population as a whole, which is 8,174 people including children to adults, that is about 59 percent of the whole population having this vaccinated immunity to COVID,” Franklin said. “The target number for herd immunity is somewhere between 60 to 80 percent but most likely closer to that 70 percent threshold so we still have some work to do along those lines.”
Recent reports of the Pfizer vaccine for use by fall for those 12 to 15 years of age are encouraging. Young people aged 16 and 17 are currently eligible, but regional pharmacies await shipments.
“On Friday, the governor announced that Colorado will be making the vaccine eligible for anybody 16 and above,” she said. “This is going to be a huge game-changer for that final bucket of people that we haven't had registered (to get vaccinated).”
The board agreed that moving forward with revised public health orders would require an executive session with county attorney Amy Markwell.
“We need to get direction on what we intend to do with the unique circumstances of our summer economy, which is very much based on events,” said commissioner Hilary Cooper. “We've obviously got some festival planners and event planners that need this information, like last week. So we need to have that discussion. And I was thinking we were going to have that in executive session to get legal advice from our attorney on how we can come up with a good process for public health orders for the summer.”
When the commissioners emerged from the private talks, board chair Lance Waring said the board supported the public health department recommendation of aligning with “state guidelines on outdoor live events with six-foot spacing dictating capacity, unless other local jurisdictions’ restrictions are greater. Our next conversation on this will be April 21.”
Franklin also received support from the board for loosening local restrictions to sync with the state’s revised 3.0 dial, a move that could take place Monday, placing the entire state in Level Blue.
Franklin also stressed that continued testing is a powerful tool in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“When we are able to identify a positive COVID-19 case in a timely manner, contact tracing and quarantining virtually stops the virus in its tracks,” Franklin said in a recent news release. “Preventing transmission will not only aid in reducing the number of people getting sick, but also gives the virus fewer opportunities to mutate.”
With offseason travel pending for many families and workers, and in-person learning a top priority for returning students, public health offered numerous guidelines before, during and after travel, including getting tested no more than three days prior to departure and no fewer than five days after return; reconsidering your travels and opting for low-contact activities; continuing to wear a mask regardless of local policies; and upon return from travel, pay close attention to symptoms and plan to quarantine for at least seven days, releasing from quarantine on day eight with a negative COVID test result.
If choosing not to get tested, individuals and families should plan to quarantine for 10 days, releasing from quarantine on day 11, given that no symptoms arise.
Free testing opportunities will expand during the week of April 18 with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment returning for mass testing on April 22 in Norwood and April 23 in Telluride.
Additionally, Telluride Whole Health is conducting free, rapid COVID-19 tests tomorrow (Friday) from 8-10:30 a.m. at the Lawson Hill intercept lot (look for the Airstream). Abbott Binax NOW rapid antigen tests will be provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and San Miguel County. Results will be available in 15 minutes. However, officials caution that the test is not as accurate as a PCR, and can result in both false positives and false negatives. Those needing testing for travel, confirm that a rapid antigen test is acceptable. If you have a known exposure or symptoms, and your rapid test is negative, then PCR test will be needed. Sign up at tinyurl.com/jdem8t34.
For complete information on vaccines, testing and COVID-19 information, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov.