San Miguel County has experienced a “significant decrease” in positive COVID-19 cases recently, but state and local officials are anticipating an uptick due to the holidays as early as the middle of this month, county public health director Grace Franklin explained during Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners virtual meeting.
As of press time Wednesday, the county had reported 435 total positive cases among residents, with 19 active, including the latest 14 positives announced Tuesday. All actively contagious cases are currently in isolation.
The county’s incident rate of 4.1 percent and positivity rate of 305 per 100,000 people have also decreased, which is “great compared to where we were a little bit ago,” Franklin said.
“That incidence rate shows how many people we estimate are truly infected within our county knowing that we’re not capturing everyone through tests,” she said. The county has administered over 8,700 PCR tests since the onset of the pandemic.
Franklin explained that the local trend mimics that of the state’s, as there’s been a dip in overall cases, but a slight increase as of late.
“This makes sense since we just had our Christmas holidays, followed by New Years Eve holidays. When we look at our mobility data across the state, you can see that people definitely gathered Christmas Eve, Christmas day and New Years Eve. This uptick is really signifying the stat of the impact of those holidays,” she added “ … I would anticipate to see an increase in cases over the next couple of weeks,” as it’ll take upwards of seven to 10 days to see the “larger trends and impacts from Christmas holidays.”
Hospitalizations have been “flattening but not in the way we’d like” statewide, Franklin said. “It was decreasing before, but now it’s leveling out,” which will be “something to watch over the next couple weeks”
Overall, the current numbers are “not as bad off as we projected, but we’re still not out of the woods,” she added.
With the county moving to the less restrictive Level Orange this week, Franklin stressed the importance of continuing to following the five commitments — wearing a mask in public, social distancing, frequent hand washing, and staying home and getting tested if feeling ill — and limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people from one household.
“The key here is as we opened capacity (for in-person dining), folks need to remember this is not over yet,” she said.
If the county navigates a “stable opening and continued decrease in cases, even with the expected holiday peak,” moving to Level Yellow could be considered in a month or so.
One component is the ongoing vaccination program. The public health department and Telluride Regional Medical Center have been receiving 100 Moderna vaccine doses each per week, as the statewide rollout continues. Last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced a revised plan that includes full-time residents who are at least 70 years old under the first phase.
Franklin explained that there are approximately 663 county residents who are 70 or older, according to voter and medical records. Public health, with the help of the county’s medical centers, are currently contacting and vaccinating those residents. If residents are interested in receiving a vaccine, they can call 970-708-8670 or visit bit.ly/smcvaccine to pre-register.
“If (the state vaccine allocation) continues at that pace, we’ll be able to vaccinate those residents within the next three weeks, if things go according to plan,” Franklin said.
After the first phase is completed, critical workforce employees, including those in the service and hospitality industry, would be eligible to be vaccinated, but that may not be until spring and depends on the state’s plans.
“It is unclear at this point when we finish vaccinating all of our health care workers and 70-plus residents if we could start or wait for the rest of the state,” she added. “ … We want to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible because we know the benefits of it. But from an equity standpoint, I think the state doesn’t want folks to be at various phases along the line and wants everyone to come along at the same time.”