The message remains much the same week in and week out. San Miguel County has plenty of doses of either the two-step Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccines — including another 500 doses on the way — so get vaccinated. The county’s public health department, Uncompahgre Medical Clinic (UMC) in Norwood and Telluride Regional Medical Clinic are all working so efficiently on vaccinating county residents that San Miguel is currently the top county in the state for vaccine distribution. Getting vaccinated, county public health director Grace Franklin said, is key to ending the pandemic, especially as state officials have opened up eligibility to all residents 16 years of age and older.
“We have been preparing for the general public to be eligible since December and have created a system that is both efficient and effective,” Franklin said in a recent news release. “This is our biggest tool in ending the pandemic. By reducing the likelihood of infection and severe outcomes amongst our vulnerable populations, along with reducing the risk of outbreaks, we protect our businesses, schools and our communities for the foreseeable future.”
At Wednesday’s weekly public health update for the Board of County Commissioners sitting as the board of health (Lance Waring, Kris Holstrom and Hilary Cooper), Franklin said she was pleased with the vaccination rates the county’s three different health agencies have been able to achieve.
“As of Tuesday, we've had about 2,500 people receive full vaccination, which is about 30 percent of our population, which is just absolutely spectacular,” Franklin said.
With offseason officially underway and with many making travel plans, there are strong advantages to being fully vaccinated. According to the CDC, people that have reached full protection through vaccination do not have to quarantine or get tested if exposed to a known positive unless they have symptoms. Additionally, fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart. When traveling within the United States, fully vaccinated people do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.
Johnson & Johnson clinics are taking place in Mountain Village today (Thursday), and in Telluride and Norwood next week. Moderna clinics are happening in Telluride this weekend and in Norwood next week.
“On April 24, we're going to have our last mass clinic of the first and second doses combined based off of our current demand for the vaccine,” Franklin said. “And moving into May, we are anticipating that there are primarily going to be second dose clinics, with some first doses, potentially getting stragglers into it.”
Next week, Holstrom, Franklin and other community leaders will hold a Q&A on the importance of receiving a vaccine, and next Tuesday the final community forum via Zoom will take place, focusing on vaccines. The education and outreach efforts, combined with good availability of doses, has put the county first in the state.
“I can't say enough about the hard work that the provider groups have been doing to take us up to this level,” Franklin said.
(For details on public forums and clinics, see below.)
Despite healthy vaccinations numbers, the amount of people traveling and then returning home has health officials concerned. Cooper suggested refreshed messaging for residents about health protocols.
“Maybe it's time to start that shift into a new colors, new images, new something for summer, refresh the message, so that we can be prepared for people coming back,” Cooper said. “Because we'd hate to see us having to go back into tighter restrictions once everybody returns. That would be so disappointing to our businesses.”
Franklin said she fully expected an uptick in cases upon the return of offseason wanderers, and noted that the greater prevalence of virus variants is cause for concern.
“The B.1.1.7 and the 147 (California variant) are so much more prevalent here and becoming the majority of our cases and have that higher transmissibility that that's a significant enough concern to raise our hackles,” she said.
Those two variants have been shown to afflict a younger demographic and are highly transmissible.
Franklin’s other concerns focus on a decision the state is mulling on the timing of potentially lifting mask mandates and/or eliminating the COVID-19 dial altogether.
“Removing both masks and the dial framework early in April can have a pretty significant impact on the number of deaths statewide,” she said. “But if policy stays steady through mid-March or mid-May the amount of deaths and hospitalizations really does lessen overall.”
Many county health departments are urging state officials to delay lifting a mask mandate.
No matter what the state decides. Local municipalities can enact stricter public health orders. An example is San Miguel County’s current cap on lodging at 85 percent.
In other health updates Wednesday, Holstrom reported that one local business, La Cocina de Luz, has become fully certified in the 5 Star State Certification Program. That program, administered on a local level, encourages businesses to put in place public health safety measures beyond what is already regulated, a plan that aims to stimulate reopening of shuttered businesses.
“It looks like the state will stop the state level oversight of the program on April 16,” Holstrom reported. “We will continue to report as one of the counties who received funding, which is in place until the end of June. So we're moving ahead and there's some (local) support for moving ahead with that.”
Holstrom added that the arrival of offseason has slowed the flow of applications, though the restaurant sector, in particular, is most active in its advocacy of 5 Star.
Public health will be hosting two events next week offering an opportunity to ask questions and to learn more about the various vaccines, their safety and efficacy. On Monday, public health will host an in-person panel discussion at Norwood Fairgrounds’ Pig Palace at 6:15 p.m. Panelists include Franklin, Holstrom, Town of Norwood Trustee Jamie Schultz and UMC Physician Assistant Robin Richards, as well as Norwood residents Mark Vandenburg, Ted Mueller and Charlie Bausch.
On Tuesday at 6 p.m., a forum to discuss the vaccines, distribution and the COVID state of the county will take place, followed by time for questions. Franklin and county chief medical cfficer Dr. Sharon Grundy will host the forum, which will be held on Zoom in meeting room 875 7561 1213 with passcode 819 022.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment expanded vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 years of age and older on Friday. With adequate supply to proceed with this phase of vaccination, San Miguel County encourages all residents interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine to pre-register on the county COVID website at bit.ly/smcvaccine.
For complete COVID-19 information, including vaccines, current stats and positive cases, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov.