County health

There are numerous opportunities throughout the month to schedule a flu and/or COVID vaccine. (Screenshot by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

San Miguel County marked another sorrowful community loss, announcing its fourth death related to the COVID-19 pandemic at the Board of County Commissioners meeting Wednesday. Public health director Grace Franklin told commissioners Lance Waring and Kris Holstrom — sitting as the board of health — that the death occurred Friday. (Commissioner Hilary Cooper was unable to attend the afternoon portion of the meeting.)

County manager Mike Bordogna, noting that the county had simply added the death on it county COVID dashboard rather than sending out a press release immediately as it had in the past, said the revised protocol was shaped by feedback from bereaved families.

“Previously we had sent out news flashes and we had updated on our social media and had done a press release immediately. One of the things that we learned from talking with the families of the deceased due to COVID or related to COVID, was that they felt like that was really a call-out on them and their family, and they asked us to refine how we're reporting those deaths,” Bordogna said. “So this was kind of trying to honor what we've learned in those conversations with those families. It's in no way trying to minimize the significance of losing another long-time and really integral community member, but more trying to respect them and their family during the grieving process, while still updating our information on the website. I wanted to just share why we took this slightly different approach and why we're likely to continue with the same approach, rather than setting up these flashes or making a big announcement.”

Franklin’s brief weekly update showed a picture of the county that, while no longer nearing positivity and incidence rates of the winter, was still grappling with persistent spread. The public health department’s key metrics such as hospital capacity and data from samples drawn at the Telluride Wastewater Treatment plant, reveal presence of the coronavirus at levels that indicate little in the way of remarkable decline. Treatment plant data, Franklin said had been delayed and that officials were expecting new analyses later Wednesday or Thursday. The advent of off-season, she said, could show a decline.

“The three sample average (has) remained elevated in that moderate disease burden, and has had variable readings from that data day (Sept. 30) data point. And so it's interesting though, when we look at the population and the disease burden on the east end, the weekends really aren't the main contributors for those higher readings,” she said. “I'll just be keeping a tab here and as we get more data, I would anticipate this to decrease with the start of offseason and our population decreasing.”

Social contact was once the highest form of the spread as discerned by county contact tracing teams, but now the spread is happening in households. The next highest spread is the broader category of community spread, which is a catch-all when exact contact is difficult to determine.

“As a reminder, community is really that environment where we're not quite sure the exact pinpoint, but clearly it was just from moving out and about in our community,” Franklin said. “It's important to note with the household spread it compounds, a lot of our data points, because when we look at our case numbers, our case numbers have remained elevated.”

Regionally, hospitals have remained strained. Franklin reported to the commissioners that Montrose Memorial Hospital has been unable to take patients from the county.

“Our transfers over this last week … all of them were not accepted in Montrose, and so they were all transferred to St. Mary's which adds substantial time to our EMS response.”

In a recent news release, the county also offered advice on over-the-counter COVID tests, which are becoming more widely used. Officials urged that users of those test keep the public health department in the loop.

Since at-home tests are administered privately, individuals may have questions about protocol related to positive tests or potential false negatives,” the release read. “It is important that public health is involved in the process to ensure proper support while containing the spread of COVID in the community.”

Though convenient, officials cautioned that the home tests are not as accurate as the PCR tests currently administered by the county.

“There are differences with the accuracy for positive and negative results for most in-home tests,” according to the news release. Individuals who are symptomatic and test negative should still isolate and schedule a test through Public Health or their primary healthcare provider. Sick individuals who test positive with an at-home test are considered infected with COVID and do not require further testing.”

Franklin added, “It’s important that people trust the results when they test positive with at-home tests, and take action immediately rather than wait and retest. Their quick response will assist in their recovery, and slow the spread of the virus in our community.”

At-home COVID tests can be purchased at a variety of area pharmacies. Free at-home tests for Colorado residents are available through Colorado Department of Health & Environment (CDPHE). Enrollment information can be found at Covid19.Colorado.gov/covid-19-testing-at-home.

To effectively protect others that may have been exposed, should a home test indicate positive, email public health immediately at publichealth@sanmiguelcountyco.gov and provide full name, date of birth, test date and type. A member of the public health team will contact them within 24 hours, and assign a local contact tracer to the individual, provide guidance, and support in isolation.

For complete information on both flu and COVID vaccine clinics, testing and current county metrics, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov.