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Garfield County Public Health, local hospitals concerned over rising variant cases


With delta variant cases growing in Garfield County, the local medical community has one message: Get your COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible.

The delta variant is believed to have originated in India, and research shows it is more transmissible and can cause more severe symptoms in some people.

During a news conference hosted by Garfield County Public Health on Tuesday morning, representatives from the county’s major medical institutions expressed worry about a possible “snap back” to former COVID-19 restrictions.



With just 52% of the county’s population vaccinated, the delta variant that began causing spikes in early June could, in fact, lead to more and more people being admitted to hospitals and intensive care units.

“Across this nation in areas with lower vaccination rates, we are seeing increases in hospitalizations and COVID cases,” Grand River Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Coleman said. “And when you couple that in western Colorado with the emergence of the delta stream of COVID in our community, the potential to overwhelm our local health care systems is evident.”



With rates quadrupling, the county recently moved back to a higher-alert level yellow. The level, however, is not actually a restriction but merely a point of reference with how the county’s doing in regards to COVID-19.

The delta variant has shown to be 50-60% more transmissible. Meanwhile, studies suggest it can make a person sicker than the original strain, Coleman said.

According to county statistics, there have been 53 new COVID-19 cases reported between June 15 and June 21, with a 6.7% positivity rate within the past 7 days and an 11% hospitalization rate.

Among the county’s five recent deaths, two were fully vaccinated, Public Health nurse manager Sara Brainard said.

“We know that the delta variant is more aggressive, and we have had some breakthrough cases specifically related to the delta variant,” Coleman said. “I can’t speak to whether the two deaths in Garfield County were fully vaccinated or not.”

Coleman did confirm, however, that the delta variant was solely responsible for increased hospitalizations.

The good news is that each vaccine is effective, whether it’s Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson.

“I will say there was a question about the efficacy of all three vaccines. If I had to choose — and I’m just speaking to the general public — we’ve been very happy with our experience with both Pfizer and Moderna,” Coleman said. “And as far as a health care institution with a lot of employees that are exposed daily, directly to COVID has been extremely effective.”

Brainard said the vaccines are 88% effective against the Delta variant.

“If you do receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine … it is a two-dose series, and (you need to make) sure that you complete that series according to the guidelines,” Brainard said.

Those most at-risk of becoming infected are the unvaccinated, Valley View Hospital emergency medicine Dr. Ben Peery said. People with other conditions are also at a higher risk.

“I think you add nonvaccinated and underlying comorbidities like emphysema or heart disease or diabetes or obesity, I think they’re going to struggle,” Peery said.

If capacity at local hospitals reaches 85% due to significant growth in cases, then some of the COVID-19 measures previously enforced could come back, Brainard said.

Coleman said Grand River Health currently has about 12 beds. With the admittance of four new COVID-19 patients over the past week, that means 33% of those beds are for COVID-19 patients, Coleman said.

The Rifle hospital also just held a grand opening for its new expansion, but a full transition has yet to be made.

“So at Grand River, we have had our hospital expansion, grand opening,” Coleman said. “But, you know, when you open up a new hospital, you have to make sure that staff have the familiarity of the space. So we have not moved over to that expanded space yet.”

Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, however, has not seen its hospitalization rate increase as much as Grand River’s in relation to the new COVID-19 variant, Peery said. The hospital has admitted 11 new COVID-19 cases since June 1.

Peery said Valley View is currently looking to expand its resources to combat COVID-19.

“It’s not always about beds,” he said. “It’s also about staff and our nursing staff.”

The ultimate goal is to at least get 70% of all populations vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.

Until that threshold is met, people should continue to wear masks, a message that has become even more difficult for people to hear and accept, Brainard said.

“People are getting really cranky and not really welcome to hear our guidance at this point, 15 months later,” Brainard said. “And so I think that’s an argument for vaccination to say if you want to be able to return to daily activities, and avoid a 14-day quarantine, that vaccinations are a really good option.”

The medical community continues to provide free vaccinations to anyone. Brainard said the county also plans on offering a free vaccination clinic during the Garfield County Fair in late July.

According to the county, 12- to 15-year-olds had a 30% increase in vaccinations and 16- to 18-year-olds had a 40% percent increase in becoming fully vaccinated. Many 12- to 15-year-olds are now eligible for their second doses.

Note: Dates and locations taken from Garfield County Public Health website

CMC Spring Valley, June 23

Where: Field House Parking Lot, 3000 County Road 114, Glenwood Springs

When: 4-8 p.m.

Info: Pfizer vaccine for anyone 12 or older, Johnson & Johnson for 18 or older; first or second dose welcome; partnership with mobile vaccine bus walk-ins welcome or register here

Glenwood Springs Public Health, June 23

Where: 2014 Blake Ave.

When: 9-11 a.m.

Info: Moderna for anyone 18 or older; first or second dose welcome; register

Carbondale Fire Station, June 25

Where: 301 Meadowood Drive, Carbondale

When: 3:30-6:30 p.m.

Info: Pfizer vaccine for anyone 12 or older; first or second dose welcome; walk-ins welcome or register here; partnership with state mobile vaccine bus

Coal Ridge High School, June 26

Where: 35947 U.S Highway 6, New Castle

When: 8-11 a.m.

Info: Pfizer vaccine for anyone 12 or older; first or second dose welcome; walk-ins welcome or register here; partnership with state mobile vaccine bus

Cottonwood Apartments, June 27

Where: 200 Colorado Ave., Parachute

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Info: Pfizer vaccine for anyone 12 or older; first or second dose welcome; walk-ins welcome or register here; partnership with state mobile vaccine bus

HOW TO GET VACCINATED IN JULY

Glenwood Springs Public Health

Where: 2014 Blake Ave.

When: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. July 7, July 12, July 14, July 19, July 21 and July 26

Info: Moderna and Pfizer (J&J vaccine if available); first or second dose welcome; walk in or register

Glenwood Springs Public Health

Where: 2014 Blake Ave.

When: 9-11 a.m. July 28

Info: Moderna for anyone 18 or older; first or second dose welcome; register here

Rifle Public Health office

Where: 195 W. 14th St.

When: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. July 1, July 6, July 8, July 13, July 15, July 20, July 22, July 27 and July 29

Info: Moderna and Pfizer (J&J vaccine if available); first or second dose welcome; walk in or register

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.


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