Health update

In her presentation to the Board  of County Commissioners  Wednesday, county public health director, Grace  Franklin displayed a slide showing data that demonstrated that school districts with mask policies experience fewer COVID-19 cases. (Screenshot by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

The San Miguel Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), sitting as the board of health, heard its weekly COVID-19 update from public health director Grace Franklin at its meeting Wednesday afternoon. In many ways, it’s a familiar recitation of numbers, both statewide and countywide, that persist their upward trends, including incidence rates, positivity rates and the steady strain on hospitals. Those numbers led to the county issuing a mask mandate for the entire county last week, a policy that will remain in place, despite appeals from Norwood area residents who argue that the area’s sparser populations and rural nature make the mandate unnecessary.

As BOCC chair Lance Waring said at the briefing’s conclusion, “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Though the county has gone from Level Orange to Level Yellow, factors such as hospital ICU bed availability — a key driver in determining public health policy decisions — continues to have high percentages of occupation by Covid patients.

“As of this morning, as reported by the hospitals to Colorado Department of Public Health, 82 percent of ICU beds across the state are occupied, and 75 percent of medical surgical beds are currently occupied,” Franklin said. “That's a really high elevated number to hear from the entire state. On the Western region we've had these elevated levels as well, but have been able to transfer out to the Front Range.”

Franklin explained the state had instigated a transfer system that facilitates patient transfers to hospitals with open beds.

“The Transfer Center has been initiated into tier one, and the state has reported seeing some benefits from this so far,” she said.

Of concern are pediatric cases, which, because vaccines are not yet approved for children ages 12 and under, are continuing upward trends, as well.

“Looking at cases breakdown from ages six to 11 and then 12 to 17 continue to be the highest case loads right now for COVID,” Franklin said. A downward dip, she further explained, was likely attributable to the lag in testing over the holiday weekend. “Hopefully we'll get more data and be able to keep up.”

Continued data collection reveals thee efficacy of vaccinations, particularly as protection from more severe outcomes and death.

“If you're fully vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine, you are 3.4 times less likely to become a COVID case or test positive for COVID, 3.7 times less likely to be hospitalized for COVID and 5.8 times less likely to die from COVID,” she said.

A new dashboard available on the state public health website gives a representation of the advantages of being vaccinated, Franklin said.

“It's a really exciting new dashboard that's going to be available and give people more transparency and understanding about what we're seeing, and the different disparities between unvaccinated and vaccinated folks.”

Franklin also shared data that showed that schools with masking policies had lower case levels than schools without them.

“The data is really clear share that districts not requiring universal mask in schools have seen a much higher growth of COVID cases than districts that require masks in schools,” she said. “It's important to note that even districts that require masks are still seeing an uptick in cases it's just not growing exponentially.”

Norwood resident Molly Radecki made an appeal for leaving Norwood out of any mask mandates going forward.

“The mask mandate really caught a lot of parents off guard,” Radecki said. “I would hope the board would reconsider and if you do another mask mandate, really take the rural communities needs in mind and not just, throw another mask mandate out there.”

Radecki also expressed concern about what she saw as a lack of information regarding vaccine injuries.

“I've have not seen San Miguel County be transparent about vaccine injuries,” she said. “There is data coming out, particularly from Israel, that the vaccine causes heart inflammation and that is a particular concern. With my family DNA, I am concerned about that.”

Local physician, Dr. Jeffrey Kocher made a note of the statistical differences between data in the West End of the county compared to the east end.

“Comparing the positivity rate in the West End and the east end, you really have to take into consideration the behavior of who's seeking testing,” he said. “If you look at the amount of tests that were done in Norwood versus the population, it's about 18 percent of the population if you look at Telluride it’s about 50 percent. So, finding a higher positivity rate in Norwood could simply reflect the fact that perhaps people there are only seeking testing if they're having significant symptoms.”

For complete information on testing, vaccine clinics, COVID data and the slides Franklin used in her presentation, visit sanmiguelcountyco.gov.