An illustration of the “ultrastuctural morphology” exhibited by coronaviruses, from the Centers of Disease Control. The spikes on the virus’ surface suggest a crown, or corona. (Courtesy image) 

The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations is rapidly accelerating. At press time Friday, more than 56.1 million people — about 17 percent of the U.S. population — had been fully vaccinated. 

In Ouray County, 2,735 cumulative doses have been administered, and 1,427 people fully immunized. The number is even higher in San Miguel County, where 1,922 — 23.5 percent of residents — have been fully vaccinated.

For those who do fall into fully-vaccinated category, there was good news Friday, when the Centers for Disease Control announced that fully vaccinated citizens can now travel within the U.S. and abroad “at low risk to themselves” (but should keep wearing masks when they do so).

“It’s obviously an incredible exciting time,” said Michelle Barron M.D., the senior medical director of infection prevention and control at UCHealth. But she stressed: “Though you do have some level of protection after your first shot, you’re not considered fully vaccinated until you’ve had both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine” against the coronavirus. 

“We’re so close, and getting closer and closer to herd immunity,” Dr. Barron added. “There’s some assumption when people see these numbers that we’re done, woohoo,” we can throw off our masks and celebrate. “But there’s a spectrum of responses here. You may be healthy, but you could (unwittingly) give the virus to someone who might have more complications because of it. It’s important to keep limiting gatherings, washing your hands, and wearing masks.”

In fact, on the spectrum of what she is willing to do right now — or not — you can eliminate indoor dining from Dr. Barron’s list. It is considered a high-risk activity. 

“Outdoor dining is a good idea. Our weather is getting nice, with the exception of periodic snowstorms,” Dr. Barron said. “I’d be very comfortable dining outside, and we want to support local restaurants. I’m doing a lot of takeout. My intrinsic concern is not really knowing how a restaurant handles its air movement,” given that the virus is transmitted by micronized droplets.

“You really need to sit down and think about your risk: everyone in your party has to be comfortable with what you’re doing. Is the restaurant enforcing masking among its staff members, and spacing your party from other parties appropriately? Are its doors and windows open? There are lots of things a restaurateur can do to bring you a higher or lower level of comfort.”

When it comes to attending crowded outdoor events, “There are also still a lot of unknowns,” Barron emphasized. “What’s the rate of vaccination in a community, and how compliant will that community be with local health protocols? An extremely proactive health department is a great thing. We’re very lucky in Colorado: county health departments are very active and involved and engaged and figuring out ways people can do things safely.”

Indeed, on Friday, as the state opened up to offer vaccines to ages 16 and up, this reporter received two phone calls and a text from San Miguel County noting that fact, and adding “If you want a vaccine, pre-register with SMC Public Health.” 

“We’re in a race between the vaccine and the variants,” Dr. Barron summed up. “We want to be in a carefree world where we don’t have to think about anything, but we’re just not there yet. We’re not quite there yet. We’re getting closer, though. You know the film, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life?’ Every time someone tells me about getting the vaccine, I hear a bell tinkling. It’s just like in the movie. An angel gets its wings” when a life is saved.