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New Garfield County Public Health chief chosen; plus a statistical look back at the COVID-19 pandemic locally

A Garfield County Public Health update Monday served as a two-year statistical summary of the COVID-19 pandemic locally, as well as a changing of the guard in the county’s top public health position.

Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long put off her planned retirement for a year to help the county deal with the ongoing public health emergency.

Yvonne Long

As of Jan. 4, 2022, however, she will be formally stepping down after 22 years with the county.



“It was a challenge, but it really has been an honor to serve this county through this time period,” she said during the monthly Board of Health portion of the county commissioners meeting.

“There was a lot of struggle and heartache, but it’s something I will always cherish,” Long said, advising that the pandemic is anything but over as the new omicron variant of the virus becomes the latest concern.



Appointed from in house to take Long’s place as county public health director following a national search that included two internal candidates was Joshua Williams, the current environmental health manager for the department.

Joshua Williams

Williams has worked as an administrator and environmental health director for county health departments in Indiana, among other positions in the field, prior to joining Garfield County as environmental health manager in 2014, a county news release states.

A U.S. Army veteran, Williams was recently president of the Colorado Environmental Health Association in 2018.

“I am honored and humbled at being selected for appointment as the next Garfield County Public Health director,” he said in the release. “I look forward to bringing my past public health administration experience, as well as my continued dedication to local public health service and quality improvement to the director position.”

Williams is slated to assume his new duties on Jan. 4, the same day a retirement reception for Long is planned.

Also Monday, Mason Hohstadt, public health data specialist for the county, provided a statistical comparison between 2020 when COVID-19 first appeared in the United States, and 2021 as the pandemic nears its second anniversary.

Below are some of the key statistics for Garfield County since the beginning of the pandemic and over the past year:

Total cases confirmed

2020: 4,049 (13.9 per day)

2021: 5,121 (14.8 per day)

COVID-19 deaths confirmed

2020: 37 (including 27 in December alone)

2021: 37 (including 11 in November; seven cases remain pending confirmation from the Garfield County Coroner)

Outbreaks (defined as two or more cases associated with a single location)

2020: 21 outbreaks and 379 associated cases

2021: 37 outbreaks and 375 associated cases

Vaccinations

41,745 first doses administered (70% of the eligible population)

32,792 second doses administered (63% of the eligible population)

9,108 booster/third doses administered (33% of the eligible population)

Breakthrough cases among vaccinated

862 cases since February 2021 (compared to 3,592 among unvaccinated)

9 deaths among breakthrough cases

Hospitalizations (February 2021 to present)

28 among breakthrough cases

137 among unvaccinated

Source: Garfield County Public Health

One of the biggest changes from the first to the second year of the pandemic was the emergence of different variants to the ancestral wild virus, Hohstadt said.

Well before the current omicron variant showed up and was confirmed last week to be present in Garfield County, there were three other significant variants.

The alpha variant first appeared in Garfield County in January of this year, soon followed by the epsilon variant in late February, and the more-contagious delta variant in mid-May, which ended up becoming the dominant variant in Colorado, nationwide and globally.

Each new variant has proven to be more contagious, but more is learned as the virus evolves with regards to the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments, Hohstadt noted.

While the omicron variant is proving to be even more contagious than delta, so far the symptoms for those who contract it have not been as severe, Long added.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” she said. “Cases will most likely continue to increase … (so) we’re in this wait-and-see mode,” she said.

The No. 1 concern continues to be to make sure the hospital systems and providers are not any more strained than they already have been, Long said.

Although Gov. Jared Polis declared an end to the state’s official public health emergency over the summer, Long said public health officials are still in emergency response mode.

That’s especially true when it comes to contact tracing involving those who test positive for COVID-19, as well as tracking specific outbreaks, she and Hohstadt said.

“Each outbreak takes, at minimum, three weeks of staff time to work through the mitigation,” Hohstadt said. That includes making contact with each person who tests positive at least twice, he said.

Long said the vaccine remains the best way to prevent spread of COVID-19 and bring the pandemic to an end. Garfield County Public Health continues to work with providers and state health officials to provide walk-up and mobile vaccine clinics throughout the county.

Therapeutic treatments for those who contract COVID-19 also continue to be more readily available, but are limited in their effectiveness the longer people wait to seek treatment, Long said.

Anyone who knows or believe they have been exposed to the virus should get tested five days out from exposure, and seek treatment immediately if symptoms develop, she said.

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


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