San Miguel County Commissioner Lance Waring summed it up best at the board’s weekly update from public health director Grace Franklin Wednesday. Her report, which detailed the week’s steep increase in positive cases, overwhelming demands on the county’s contact tracing teams, a policy shift in quarantine and isolation protocols, and the tell-all evidence from Telluride’s wastewater treatment plant, laid bare the phenomenal surge in the county’s COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.
“Grace, I saw a meme the other day saying ‘COVID. Just circling back to check in,’” Waring said. “Feels like unfortunately that is more than the case. You and I and all of us are in the soup. We're in the COVID soup.”
As the sheer number of cases, nationally, statewide and locally decimate workplaces, the Centers for Disease Control has modified its guidelines for those who test positive and for those that may have been exposed to a positive individual. The period of time for isolation and quarantine has been halved to five days, with asymptomatic people given the green light to mask up and venture out.
“If somebody tests positive, they need to stay home and isolate for five full days regardless of vaccination status,” Franklin explained. “At the end of those five days if the individual doesn't have any symptoms, they can leave their house and interact with others as long as they're wearing a mask for five additional days. I would say with the caveat, of course, is that this isn't 100 percent, but perfect is the enemy of good.”
Local epidemiologist, Dr. Jeffrey Kocher added that the new CDC isolation and quarantine guidelines are not remotely based on science.
“The change in the isolation and quarantine rules that the CDC announced the other day, there's absolutely zero new science behind that change. Absolutely zero,” Kocher said. “And in the media, people were quick to try and make it appear that that was the case. But Dr. (Anthony) Fauci has cleared that up. This is purely a policy decision. It was a decision made not based on any change in the science but the simple fact that so many people are getting COVID at this point, they forced the quarantine rules, which they thought were appropriate before there would be a complete breakdown in civil functioning. This is purely a policy decision to keep society functioning. And I have to point out that we've kind of entered a new territory in that regard when the government is altering their quarantine rules, not based on a change in the science but based on the reality on the ground that so many people are sick, that things won't function if they have to be quarantined for 10 days.”
The numbers tell the story.
“As of yesterday, we had 286 active local cases, with the bulk of them being new cases in the last seven days,” Franklin said at the top of her report. “And lots of outstanding test results as well as a very high incidence rate and positivity rate. As of about an hour ago, we confirmed 139 new cases coming in through Microgen. These were from our Sunday test days.”
Microgen, which offers a saliva test at the Lawson Hill county lot has added test days on Sundays at the Telluride High School. Franklin said this Sunday alone, around 500 people lined up for testing, with numbers from Lawson Hill and Tuesday testing bringing the total number of people tested this week to nearly 1,000. Those testing at home have purchased more than 1,200 kits from Sunshine Pharmacy and, from public health, “lots and lots have been going out the door.”
The marked increase in positive cases has correlated to a shift in policy from the public health department’s contact tracing team.
“Demand (for testing) has been really high and disease burden has also been fairly high,” Franklin said. “So our team cannot adequately outreach to everyone who tested positive through both at-home testing and the point of care testing through all of our various sites. We have entered into a triage mode where our first mode of action is to email a notification of what a positive test means and then instructions to isolate and notify contact close contacts. And really put more of the responsibility and power towards the person who chose to get a test and is currently staying home because of their illness.”
Higher risk patients get direct outreach to ensure they have the necessary resources and can access medical care.
Studies are still supporting what health care professionals have been asserting for months — boosters are effective in giving individuals additional protection and preventing more severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death. The aim, Franklin said, is to work to protect society’s most vulnerable.
To schedule a test or a vaccination, and to view current county COVID 19 metrics, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov. (The data reporting for demographics on the county dashboard has been paused in light of the staggering surge.)