Citing the upward-spiraling COVID-19 caseloads both locally and statewide, and the continued strain on hospitals, San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin recommended Wednesday that the county’s indoor mask mandate remain in place through the end of January 2022. The current mandate was set to expire Nov. 30.
“Due to the increased strain on the hospital systems, the increased caseload and the fact that we're just continuing to struggle as a state and just looking towards how are we able to take care of our residents as well as manage visitors as the mountain opens,” Franklin said. “It makes sense to keep the indoor mask order in place. And I really think that it's been wise to go by a 30-day timeframe previously, because we were entering offseason there was the possibility of us being in a much better place that we are right now. But looking towards the winter, I think it would be judicious if we planned for an indoor mask mandate through January, knowing that we'll be hitting that peak winter time, knowing that we had continued cases after all the holidays after all that socialization and traveling that went with that.”
Franklin, in her weekly public health update to the Board of County Commissioners, got full support from commissioners Lance Waring and Kris Holstrom. Commissioner Hilary Cooper was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“I support your decision, Grace, and I appreciate your efforts to be realistic,” Waring said. “If by some miracle things improve more quickly than we expect, then of course we will adjust course.”
“I echo that sentiment,” Holstrom said.
Franklin pointed out in her brief presentation that across Colorado, caseloads remain high and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 threaten to max out ICU beds.
“It's estimated that about one in 62 Coloradans are currently infectious with COVID,” Franklin said. “That's the highest estimated rate this entire year. And Colorado is likely to exceed hospital capacity within the next month, month and a half if we continue this trajectory.”
Public health officials at the state level seek to stem the case rate by encouraging pediatric vaccines, booster shots for eligible individuals and by making more widely available monoclonal antibody treatments, which are effective in treating infected individuals and keeping them out of hospitals. But Colorado continues to struggle with the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, and is currently the seventh-worst state in the country for incidence rate and other key metrics.
“Colorado remains in the top worst states for incidence rate. When you look at our number as a whole, we were about 360-something last week, so it's continuing to increase slowly,” Franklin reported. “Our seven day average case trends are increasing. Percent positivity remains really elevated. We want that to be below 5 percent, but it's currently hovering at nine and a half percent. Hospitalizations are continuing to increase. And as of yesterday, there's 1,576 people currently hospitalized for COVID and it just continues to go with up without stopping.”
There are 2,000 ICU beds throughout the state.
Locally, case rates remain high. In tests administered Nov. 15-21, 34 county residents tested positive, with the preponderance of cases occurring in the east end of the county. Of those cases, 15 were 17 and younger, which Franklin said led to household spread.
“We're really just seeing it spread among households, pretty much with any school age kids,” she said. “If one person is positive in the family, it has spread very quickly among the others at just a pace that we haven't seen before.”
Franklin also said there has been increasing pushback against the public health department’s contact tracing team. She implored the community to be kind and cooperative, saying contact tracing is a key element in disease control.
“There's been increasing aggression and resistance to contact tracing work,” Franklin said. “I just want to remind folks that these are community members that are humans and care about our other community members (who) are doing this work because they're passionate about the health and safety of our friends and family. So thank you for being kind and being compliant.”
County residents have been flocking to both public health and Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment vaccine clinics for booster shots and flu shots. Franklin said she was pleased with the rate of uptake for the boosters, saying that of about 4,000 residents currently eligible, approximately 46 percent have received a booster.
For individuals ages 5-11, numbers on the recently approved Pfizer vaccine are slightly lower, she said.
“245 individuals that have received their first dose of the vaccine, which is about 35 percent uptake. It's a little lower than I anticipated. We were thinking closer to 40 percent,” Franklin said. “But it's still really encouraging knowing that there are so many different methods to get the vaccine. And then there are always ongoing pressures from other things going on in that age group. So thanks to those that have been able to come out and we'll continue to have vaccine clinics through December.”
For complete information on COVID testing, vaccines, upcoming clinics and more, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov.