Level Blue

San Miguel County aligned its Level Blue restrictions with state guidelines, effective Monday morning. (Courtesy image)

As of Monday morning, it was officially offseason in Telluride and with it came the move to align the county’s COVID-19 restrictions with the state’s guidelines for Level Blue, easing certain restrictions. Now, bars may operate at a 25 percent capacity limitation or 75 people, whichever is fewer, and lodging providers may operate at 85 percent capacity with no limitations to party size or number of households.

While San Miguel County shifted to Level Blue on March 24, some of the county’s guidelines were more restrictive than the state’s. Due to low county incidence rates, Monday’s adjustments brought the county into alignment with the current statewide guidelines, while local public health officials continue to closely monitor virus metrics to determine public health policy moving forward.

Though the county had only four active cases of COVID-19, as of press time Tuesday afternoon, the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the U.K. variant, has been detected in San Miguel County, causing concern due to its more transmissible nature as residents relax COVID-cautious behaviors.

“Public health modeling indicates the presence of variants could quickly undo the success of the community’s behavior change and vaccination efforts. The B.1.1.7 variant is prevalent in our

community and is highly transmissible,” public health director Grace Franklin said in a recent news release.

While CDC guidelines now allow for fully vaccinated people to socialize indoors unmasked with other fully vaccinated people, local officials stressed the importance of continuing to abide by best practices and employ the five commitments of containment, especially when not yet fully vaccinated or when socializing in a mixed group of vaccinated, unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people. The variants, which are contributing to the surges currently causing new lockdowns across Europe, still pose unknowns in the race to prevent another severe wave.

According to the CDC website, public health experts are “still learning how effective the vaccines are against variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Early data show the vaccines may work against some variants but could be less effective against others.”

As of press time, nearly 31 percent of San Miguel County residents were fully vaccinated, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Public health officials, however, noted that herd immunity is not achieved until 70-80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, and residents should keep their guards up a bit longer when socializing in groups of mixed vaccination status, despite the warmer weather, fewer local cases and COVID fatigue.

“You really need to weigh the risk versus benefits,” Franklin said of the decision of if and how to spend time with groups of mixed vaccination status. “If someone that is unvaccinated or someone that lives with a higher risk person is unvaccinated, it is best to continue practicing the five commitments, wearing a mask and hanging out outside. There is still lots of research needed to better understand the transmissibility of the virus if a vaccinated person is exposed to it.”

On Friday, San Miguel County, along with the state , moved into Phase Two of the vaccine rollout as supplies of the vaccine have increased, making the vaccine available to the general public who are 16 years of age and older. Currently, San Miguel County is receiving Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which are approved for those ages 18 and older, while the Pfizer vaccine may be administered to 16-and-17-year-olds. According to county officials, regional pharmacies in nearby cities offer the best current option for eligible teens interested in receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

Though San Miguel County is in Level Blue, with more residents traveling for offseason and spring break, Franklin cautioned that “the five commitments remain critical to our current trajectory.”

“If you do travel to a higher risk area or visit a lot of unvaccinated people, it would benefit our community and coworkers to quarantine for at least seven days and get a COVID test when you get home,” she said. “We are doing really well as a community and need to acknowledge the hard work that everyone has put in. However, we cannot slip now and must stay the course.”