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Increased mobility associated with holiday, start of ski season cause for concern on COVID-19 front

Garfield County lags behind neighboring counties and the state as a whole with the resurgence in COVID-19 cases, but that could change with the start of ski season as people become more mobile, the county’s top public health official advises.

The number of new weekly cases in Garfield County remains high, at 132 over the past seven days, as of Tuesday, for an incidence rate of 213.9 per 100,000 people.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment uses a benchmark of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 to be at the lowest risk for disease spread.



Yet Eagle, Pitkin and Mesa counties have been seeing higher incidence rates, Garfield Public Health Director Yvonne Long said during the monthly COVID-19 update before county commissioners on Monday.

Numbers fluctuate daily but as of the latest statistics, Pitkin County had a COVID-19 incidence rate of 265 per 100,000, and Eagle County had a seven-day rate of 291.2 per 100,000.



Mesa County, currently among the highest-risk counties in the state, had an incidence rate of 340.8 per 100,000, as of Tuesday. However, that number had been over 450 as recently as Monday.

The statewide average has been hovering around 355 per 100,000.

Garfield County’s weekly COVID-19 case numbers have tended to fluctuate since early October but have stabilized in recent weeks, Long said.

Increased travel associated with the Thanksgiving holiday this week and the start of ski season in Aspen, when more workers and skiers will be migrating upvalley, could drive those numbers up, she said.

As was the case last winter, the numbers could remain high through late February, she said.

All the more reason for more of the county’s population to become vaccinated, especially anyone who had COVID-19 in the past year and whose natural antibodies are wearing off, Long said.

“That natural immunity is going to start to wane over time,” Long said. Anyone who is immunocompromised or in the higher-risk groups based on age or health conditions is likely to be on the shorter end of that range.

A study published Oct. 1 by the journal Microbe takes a look at how long natural immunity lasts after a COVID-19 infection.

“Scientists are unable to measure how much protection individual antibodies provide, due to the number of variants circulating, and each person will have a different immune response,” Garfield County Public Health said in a Tuesday news release.

Research shows that an individual can expect to see reinfection between three and 53 months after antibody decline, with most people seeing re-infection within 16 months, the study concluded.

“Researchers who modeled the durability of natural immunity make the case that vaccinations are the best way to solve the pandemic, and that herd immunity is not a viable option due to variants of COVID-19,” the county’s news release states.

Individuals can get tested for antibodies, Long said. However, the diagnostic tests don’t differentiate between COVID-19 and other types of coronaviruses, including the common cold.

By the numbers

Unvaccinated individuals continue to drive new COVID-19 cases in Garfield County.

For the seven-day period ending Nov. 21, out of a total of 157 new cases reported, 109 involved unvaccinated individuals, and 48 were breakthrough cases among vaccinated people.

The county recorded 165 new cases for the seven-day period ending Nov. 19, for a rolling average of 23.5 cases per day, according to the weekly update given to the commissioners.

There was a high of 58 cases on Nov. 16 and a low of 20 on Nov. 13. The highest single-day count since the beginning of the pandemic was 101 on Dec. 10, 2020.

As of Tuesday, 75% of the county’s eligible population (12 and up) had received at least a single dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and 67% are fully vaccinated with either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the latest county statistics, Long reported.

Thousands of Garfield County residents have also received either a booster dose or a recommended third dose of the vaccine for those in the higher-risk groups, said Mason Hohstadt, Public Health data specialist for the county.

To date, based on the latest numbers, more than 7,000 boosters or third doses have been administered, which represents about 22% of fully vaccinated individuals.

The number of adults becoming fully vaccinated has also begun to increase, especially as adults bring in their now-eligible children ages 5-11 to be vaccinated, he said.

The child age group is still not reflected in the county’s overall vaccination rate. However, an upward adjustment in the county’s population numbers after the 2020 U.S. Census numbers came in recently did drive those percentages down slightly.

As of this week, 82% of those in Garfield County’s 70-79 age group are fully vaccinated, and 76% of those over 80 are fully vaccinated. The Garfield County (full) vaccination rate for other age groups and by gender is as follows:

12-15: 54%

16-18: 59%

19-29: 61%

30-39: 59%

40-49: 64%

50-59: 68%

60-69: 78%

Female: 70%

Male: 62%

Long said that Garfield County mirrors the state percentage for those not following through on their second dose, about 3.5%.

“We want people to know that they can come back at any time and get that second dose, and they don’t need to start over,” she said.

Other relevant Garfield County statistics as of Tuesday:

  • 9 county residents hospitalized (8 unvaccinated, 1 vaccinated)
  • 10 deaths since Oct. 1 (all unvaccinated); eight confirmed to be due to COVID-19 and two pending investigation by the coroner
  • 3 current outbreaks: Heritage Park Care Center, Carbondale (three cases); Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home, Rifle (10 cases); Ross Montessori School Carbondale (68 cases). All case numbers are cumulative.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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