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COVID-19 UPDATE: The latest Garfield County statistics and risk level assessment

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 statistics and risk level

AS OF TUESDAY, NOV. 23

Cumulative cases: 8,666

Deaths since outbreak began: 67 confirmed

Current Risk Level: Orange-High Risk

Recent 7-day case totals: Nov. 17-23 – 132; Nov. 10-16 – 186; Nov. 3-9 – 159

Cases by vaccination status for 7-day period ending 11/21: 109 among unvaccinated; 48 breakthrough cases among vaccinated.

Two-week daily case average: 18.86

Single-day high: 101 on 12/10/20

7-day incidence rate: 213.9 per 100,000 people

7-day test positivity rate: 7.6% (14-day: 7.4%)

Current number of county residents hospitalized: 9 (8 unvaccinated, 1 vaccinated)

Vaccination rate by percent of county population: Fully vaccinated – 67%; One dose – 75%. For vaccination information, visit Garfield-County.com/public-health/covid-19-vaccine/

Source: Garfield County Public Health

HOSPITAL STATS (updated weekly)

Valley View Hospital, as of 11/23/2021

Specimens collected through Valley View Hospital: 43,480

Positive results: 2,919 (+37 since 11/18)

Hospitalizations since outbreak began: 366 (1 new since 11/18)

Grand River Hospital, as of 11/23/2021

Specimens collected through Grand River Health: 12,413

Positive results: 2,209 (+38 since 11/16)

Hospitalizations since outbreak began: 93 (6 new since 11/16)

Source: Valley View and Grand River hospitals

ACTIVE OUTBREAKS IN GARFIELD COUNTY

(Updated 11/17)

Grand River Health Care Center, Rifle: Date determined — 10/26; 3 staff cases.

Ross Montessori School, Carbondale: Date determined – 10/11; 50 student cases, 11 staff cases.

EAGLE COUNTY

Cornerstone Christian School, Basalt: Date determined – 11/8; 10 student cases, 7 staff cases, 1 death.

Source: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment COVID-19 outbreak data page; updated weekly on Wednesday

Vaccination clinics planned for children ages 5-11

7-year-old Ruby Dewolfe receives her first COVID-19 vaccination at the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge clinic on Wednesday afternoon. The Hot Springs Lodge was offering free one-day passes to the Hot Springs Pool to any kids 5-11 who received the vaccine at the clinic.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Pediatric Partners of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and Garfield County Public Health are now offering COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5-11.

Appointments are required for the Pediatric Partners child vaccinations, at 970-947-9999. All children must be accompanied by an adult over the age of 18.

In addition, Garfield County Public Health is opening its walk-in clinics in Glenwood Springs and Rifle to children ages 5-11 to receive the pediatric-dose Pfizer vaccine.

Adult boosters and first and second doses will also be administered during clinic times. For the latest vaccination clinic schedule and other resources, visit the Garfield Public Health website.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in late October both approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 years old.

Free COVID testing in Garfield County

There are two free community testing providers in Garfield County, and neither a doctor’s order nor identification are required. Sites accept both walk-ups and appointments, but do not have rapid tests available. If you have symptoms, or feel you have been exposed, get tested within one to two days. Test turnaround times are between 36-48 hours.

Roaring Fork Valley free COVID testing, Monday through Friday

Carbondale — 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the parking lot behind Town Hall, 511 Colorado Ave (Enter via 4th St.)

Glenwood Springs — 7-11 a.m. at the Roaring Fork School District Administration Building parking lot, 1405 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs

Rifle — 8 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Mountain Family Health Center parking lot, 195 W. 14th St., Bldg. C, Rifle (back side of parking lot, closest to the fairgrounds)

State of Colorado free COVID testing: 12-4 p.m. Sundays in Rifle, Public Health parking lot, 195 W. 14th St.

See Garfield County COVID testing for a complete list of testing providers including pharmacies and medical offices in Garfield County.

Flu vaccinations available

In addition to COVID-19 vaccines, seasonal flu vaccines are being offered by Garfield County Public Health by appointment.

For more information, see the public health flu page.

The influenza virus changes every year, so getting vaccinated annually is important to make sure you have immunity, public health advises.

Flu symptoms appear one to four days after exposure to the virus and typically last between five to seven days. Even after symptoms resolve many individuals continue to feel fatigued. People who have had the flu shot generally have less severe symptoms over a shorter period.

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.

Largest COVID-19 outbreak in Garfield County forces Ross Montessori School online

A sign outside Ross Montessori school in Carbondale notifies parents of remote learning on Nov. 15.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

A week ahead of Thanksgiving break, Ross Montessori School in Carbondale shut its doors early.

The largest reported COVID-19 outbreak in Garfield County since the pandemic began led the K-8 charter school to move to remote learning for the week, starting Monday.

According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data, 46 students — nearly 15% of its enrollment — and 10 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since Oct. 11. According to Nov. 11 data, the cumulative 56 cases is the highest individual reported outbreak in Garfield County, topping the 55 from the E. Dene Moore Care Center in Rifle in November 2020.

A letter sent to parents by the school showed 20 positive tests from students and six from staff over the past two weeks. As of Nov. 16, 10 students and one staff member were still in quarantine, according to the school.

The plan is for classes to resume in person on Nov. 29, following Thanksgiving break.

“I know the school is going to do everything operationally to try to be in person,” Ross Montessori board of directors President Paul Smith said. “We’re like everyone else hoping that the delta variant wave passes through and that our families that decide that they want to get vaccinations for their children 5-11 years old have an opportunity to do that with this two-week break.”

No middle school students tested positive as of the Nov. 11 letter, but 10 of the 11 elementary level classes had at least one student test positive.

The school does not mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students or staff but implemented mask requirements, cohort isolation and ventilation measures. It declined offering specific vaccination rates, but said they were “high” in the letter to parents.

“Since our state does not require the COVID immunization for children, we only know if parents inform us,” Ross Montessori Head of School Sonya Hemmen said. “They are not required to tell us.”

In the Nov. 11 letter, it rejected the idea of hosting a vaccination clinic at the school. Two parents had requested an on-site vaccination clinic, which goes against school philosophy, according to the letter.

“We have zero interest in this or any other immunization program,” the letter, signed by Hemmen and copying the board of directors, reads. “We want to assure you that it is not consistent with our role as a school and not a health facility to poke students with needles.”

Ross Montessori is one of three local schools with an active outbreak as described by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in its most-recent report.

Grand Valley High School in Parachute reported 18 cases cumulatively — 17 of them students — after initial reporting on Oct. 19. According to Garfield County Public Health, the Grand Valley outbreak was considered resolved Monday. It was the second-largest outbreak at a school in the county, following Ross Montessori’s.

Active outbreaks are marked as resolved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment following 28 days of no new cases.

Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt reportedly had 17 cumulative cases as of Nov. 10, including the death of a long-time staff member. The school faces a public health order from Eagle County that controls how students and staff who have positive tests can become eligible for returning to school.

Ross Montessori does not face any public health orders and voluntarily opted to temporarily shutter its doors, working closely with Garfield County Public Health once a staff member tested positive in late September, school officials said.

The school reportedly had enough healthy staff members to stay open but followed requests of staff to move online “for additional time to recover from illness,” the letter states. It took similar action the week before winter break last year due to COVID-19 cases, Smith said.

The school did not set any benchmarks for returning to in-person and is intent on resuming classes as normal following the break.

“At a Montessori school, we simply cannot replicate what happens in a classroom at home,” Ross Montessori Teaching Coach Mandi Franz said. “What we have in our classroom and what our teachers do regularly and the communication that happens among students and the collaboration, it simply is best done in person.”

Garfield County Public Health wanted to emphasize that travel over Thanksgiving break could exacerbate a worsening trend in COVID-19 cases.

“Comparing to this time a year ago, where vaccines were just becoming a tool we could use to decrease cases, we’re almost back to that level with case loads,” Garfield County Public Health spokeswoman Carrie Godes said. “It’s an important time to remind families congregating, parents working, that it impacts your household. It impacts your school, your place of employment as well as your family.”

RFTA had partial success offering vaccine bonus

RFTA lead mechanic Will Fabela, right, and Patricia Rosales Trigo disinfect a bus at the Aspen Maintenance Facility on March 12, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s financial incentive for employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination had strong but not overwhelming success, so the agency is looking into on-site testing for the winter.

RFTA started offering a $500 bonus last February when vaccinations became available. As of Oct. 26, 290 of the 370 employees, or 78%, had gotten vaccinated.

RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship said management wants to implement a testing program to make sure there isn’t an outbreak among the unvaccinated employees or breakthrough cases with those who were vaccinated.

“Staff is developing a (request for proposals) for an on-site rapid COVID testing program for unvaccinated employees and vaccinated employees who are experiencing symptoms,” Blankenship wrote in a memo to RFTA’s board of directors. “Currently it is estimated that a contract will be awarded by mid-December and that the program should be implemented on or before January 1, 2022.”

President Joe Biden announced in September there would be a vaccination mandate for federal employees and contractors and for private sector businesses with 100 or more workers. Qualified employers must require their employees to either be fully vaccinated or to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

Although RFTA isn’t subject to the federal mandate, the management wants to implement the testing as “another layer of protection for all RFTA employees,” Blankenship wrote.

Blankenship told The Aspen Times after Thursday’s directors meeting that the agency believes it is within RFTA’s authority to require testing for those who don’t provide proof of vaccination.

“We’re hopeful everybody in the workforce will view it positively,” he said. “We don’t think it’s too much to ask people to get tested.”

Frontline employees are currently asked to affirm in writing that they are experiencing no symptoms when they report to work, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated.

The rapid tests will likely be once or twice per week. The cost for a 24-week testing program is estimated in excess of $100,000, but how much more will be determined by the proposals.

RFTA management has not explored why 84 of the current employees have chosen not to get vaccinated. It is likely due to a variety of reasons, Blankenship said. The agency had 157 year-round and 12 seasonal and part-time drivers on staff as of Oct. 26. Its goal is to be up to 201 drivers by winter season, which started Nov. 22.

RFTA bus drivers and bus passengers are required by federal law to wear masks. RFTA went from 50% capacity on buses to 100% of seated capacity in June.

RFTA has taken a variety of steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees and passengers. It estimated it incurred more than $2 million in direct expenses in 2020 alone.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Garfield County COVID-19 vaccine clinics set for children ages 5-11, including free Hot Springs pass

Pediatric Partners of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, the Hot Springs Resort and Garfield County Public Health have scheduled times for children ages 5-11 to receive their COVID-19 vaccines over the next week.

Appointments are required for the Pediatric Partners. The second of two clinics takes place from 2-5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12. All children must be accompanied by an adult over the age of 18.

Clinic appointments are to be scheduled online here. For additional information, call 970-947-9999.

In addition, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment hosts a pediatric COVID vaccination clinic for ages 5-11 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Nov. 17 at the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge, 415 Sixth St., across from the pool.

Each child in that age group who receives the vaccine at the clinic will receive a free one-day pass to the Hot Springs Pool, a news release from the Hot Springs Resort states.

The clinic is to be held in the Iron Mountain Conference Room on the lower level of the Lodge. All children must be accompanied by an adult.

Walk-ins are welcome but preregistration is encouraged online [www.comassvax.org/appointment/en/reg/1012960969].

“The focus of this event is on pediatric COVID vaccination and giving these kids a fun experience at our hot springs pool,” Hot Springs Resort Director of Operations Kevin Flohr said.

The free one-day pool pass is only offered to children ages 5-11 who are vaccinated at the Nov. 17 clinic, but adult vaccines will also be available.

In addition, Garfield County Public Health is opening its walk-in clinics next week to children ages 5-11 to receive the pediatric-dose Pfizer vaccine.

Those clinics take place from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 17 and 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Glenwood Springs Public Health office, 2014 Blake Ave.; and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Rifle office, 195 W. 14th St. Adult boosters and first and second doses will also be administered during those clinic times.

Valley View noted in its release that now is a crucial time for the specialized child vaccines to become fully effective before the Thanksgiving holiday. The goal is to vaccinate at least 12 days prior to gathering with family and friends, the release states.

“We need to seize this opportunity to get our children fully protected not only for their health but for our greater community,” said Dr. David Brooks, pediatrician with Pediatric Partners and Chief Medical Officer of Valley View. “Too many children in our community and in our state have lost loved ones to this deadly disease. One in 500 kids have lost a direct caregiver due to COVID-19.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in late October both approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 years old.

According to the CDC, 1.9 million children ages 5 to 11 years in the United States have been infected with COVID-19 resulting in over 8,300 hospitalizations and 94 deaths since the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 is now in the top 10 causes of death for children ages 5 to 11 years old nationwide.

“The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to be over 90% effective in preventing symptomatic disease in this age group,” Valley View states in its release.

The pediatric vaccine is one-third the dose of the vaccine for ages 12 and up and is given in two doses separated by three weeks.

Garfield County COVID death, case counts continue to rise

Garfield County, like much of Colorado, has seen a rise in both deaths due to COVID-19 and cases in general over the past month to six weeks.

Eight new deaths among county residents attributed to the virus were reported from Oct. 1 through Tuesday and since confirmed by Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire.

Most of those newly confirmed deaths were added to the county’s COVID-19 data web page this week.

The recent deaths include the youngest person in the county to die from the disease, a 34-year-old male, as reported by Garfield County Public Health on Oct. 12.

Since then, seven additional deaths were confirmed, GCPH spokeswoman Carrie Godes said Tuesday.

Of the five reported new deaths due to COVID-19 between Oct. 1 and Nov. 1, all of the individuals were unvaccinated, the youngest being in his early 30s, two in their early 50s, one who was mid-60s and one mid- 70s, Godes said.

One was a female, the others male, and four of the five had been hospitalized, she said.

As of Tuesday, the county had confirmed 67 total deaths due to COVID-19 since spring of 2020. Public Health was tracking four county residents who are hospitalized, either within the county or transferred to other hospitals in the state.

Garfield County has confirmed 136 new cases over the past seven days, for an incidence rate of 226 per 100,000 people.

The trend has reversed slightly over the past week, from a recent high of 192 cases between Oct. 19-25 and an incidence rate over 300 per 100,000.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment uses a benchmark of fewer than 30 cases per 100,000 with a test positivity rate of less than 5% for a county to be in the lowest-risk category.

Garfield County, with its high incidence rate and a seven-day test positivity rate of 9%, remains in the state’s second-highest risk category.

About two-thirds of recent new cases involve unvaccinated individuals, according to the county’s latest statistics.

Meanwhile, the county has stagnated at a 67% fully vaccinated rate among its eligible population for several weeks. That figure does not reflect the new federal approval for children ages 5-11 to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

Commissioners get antibody treatment lesson

Meanwhile, representatives of Garfield County’s two hospitals advised county commissioners Monday that they offer a common lab-based antibody treatment that’s proven effective in keeping COVID-19 patients out of hospital beds and off ventilators.

But its availability shouldn’t be seen as a substitute to the effective prevention provided by getting vaccinated against the virus in the first place, representatives for Valley View and Grand River hospitals both said.

Valley View in Glenwood Springs has been offering monoclonal antibody treatment since it was first approved in December 2020, said Dr. David Brooks, chief medical officer at the hospital.

The treatment involves laboratory-manufactured antibodies produced from the B cells of people who are infected with COVID-19.

It’s derived from a lab and involves passive treatment after a person has been infected, rather than the active immunization provided via the vaccine, which triggers the body’s natural immune system to ward off the virus in the first place, he explained.

Brooks said evidence has shown that when somebody who’s been infected or exposed has a high-risk medical condition, monoclonal antibody treatment can reduce the risk of hospitalization by about 70%.

“It’s not a substitute for vaccination, but it is an effective early intervention,” he said.

Valley View administers about 10 to 15 such treatments per week, he said, but it is generally reserved for those who are at the most risk.

“We are quite open to giving it and want to give it; we just need people to order it,” Brooks said.

Once someone is hospitalized and on oxygen therapy, it’s too late though, he said.

Jessica Menu, director of infection control/infusion at Grand River Hospital in Rifle, said Grand River also administers about 15 monoclonal antibody treatments per week.

“It’s definitely available, but it’s definitely not a substitute to vaccination,” she agreed.

The advice came at the request of County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who said he was curious about the treatment after Gov. Jared Polis last week deployed mobile units around the state to administer it in an effort to help reduce hospitalization amid the latest uptick in COVID-19 cases across the state.

“We need to get this information out to the public,” Jankovsky said.

Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long advised that not everyone can qualify for the treatment, as its based on being at risk or having an underlying condition.

“If you’re a healthy, young adult and test positive, the likelihood of qualifying is low,” she said.

Although most health insurance will cover the cost for the treatment, it is not administered for free as the vaccine currently is, she added.

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

Eagle County issues public health order to contain outbreak at Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt

From left, Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu and commissioners Matt Scherr and Kathy Chandler-Henry listen to Heath Harmon, the county’s public health director, at Thursday’s emergency meeting of the board of health in Eagle.
Nate Peterson/Vail Daily

EAGLE — The Eagle County commissioners on Thursday signed a public health order directed at Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt to contain an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak that has reached 14 cases.

The signing of the order came at the close of an emergency meeting of the Eagle County Board of Health. Any person at the private Christian school who fails to comply with the order is subject to penalties ranging from fines up to $5,000 and jail time up to 18 months.

The hourlong meeting included a presentation by Heath Harmon, the county’s public health director, who provided a timeline of the county’s requests for the school to come into compliance with public health reporting of positive cases at the school. School board members Jonathan Jones, Norman Bacheldor and Amanda Pond, who is also a third-grade teacher at the campus, expressed contrition for the situation while also stating that the school hasn’t been lax about taking COVID-19 precautions.

“We don’t take this lightly. We’re not careless,” Bacheldor said.

Pond said as a staff member at the school, “I can say we’re meeting weekly and communicating protocols and what we need to be doing in our classroom and how we need to be taking temps of the kids when they come in and sanitizing at lunchtime and after lunch.”

The emergency meeting came a little more than a month after the Rev. Jim Tarr of Cornerstone Christian Church appealed to Eagle County Commissioners Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney and Matt Scherr to let his school determine its own policy on masks for students based on its religious status.

Tarr, who also is president of Cornerstone Christian School, which is located along Colorado Highway 82 between El Jebel and Basalt, said the parents of students at the school should determine whether masks should be required rather than Eagle County’s department of public health.

“In the role of society, children are not created to be obedient to any other system of government except for the wishes of their parents,” Tarr said on Sept. 30.

Tarr was not present at Thursday’s meeting because he was at home struggling with a case of COVID-19, Pond said. A longtime staff member at the school has died — likely the 32nd and most recent county resident to succumb to the virus since the outbreak began.

“Late in the afternoon of November 1, 2021, Cornerstone provided a partial and incomplete response to the ECPHE inquiry,” according to the order. “The correspondence from Cornerstone indicated that between October 1, 2021 and October 31, 2021, eleven (11) Cornerstone students and staff have reported positive cases of COVID-19, with one staff member now being deceased. None of those reports had been received by ECPHE in advance of this inquiry.”

And, as Jones explained to commissioners, the school’s inability to meet deadlines set by Harmon to come into compliance was, in part, due to the school’s administrator and secretary being in quarantine with COVID-19.

“Some of the issues that we faced right away, one of the individuals who was positive for COVID was our administrator at the school,” Jones explained. “With that being the case, trying to acquire this information without passwords and things like that, it was really just a hard situation to be in. The delay in the process was not us trying to not comply, it was just a logistical issue that we faced.”

Fighting over masks

Tarr took his case directly to the commissioners at their Sept. 30 meeting after he was told by the Eagle County Health Department the private Christian school must adhere to an indoor mask mandate that was extended Sept. 16 for all schools in the county. The order has since been extended to Dec. 17 as incidents rates remained elevated.

Eagle County’s COVID-19 incidence rate has risen from 187 cases per 100,000 on Oct. 22 to 318 cases per 100,000 as of Thursday.

Cornerstone Principal Emily Lambert submitted her resignation after the school determined it would defy the public health order. A meeting that was called for parents after Lambert’s resignation became “very polarizing” with “anti-maskers versus maskers,” a parent said.

Bacheldor made a point not to rehash the debate over masks Thursday, but he made clear that the school had managed the pandemic well before the current outbreak, with no major disruptions.

“During the height of COVID, we were maybe the only school that was able to stay open the whole time,” he said. “We had no outbreak at all. We didn’t have a COVID case. So we felt pretty good that we were pretty careful about what we were doing. I don’t know if we were less careful this time, but certainly the results were not the same as last year.”

Cornerstone Christian School is on Highway 82 in the Roaring Fork Valley between Basalt and El Jebel. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The current outbreak at the school first came to the attention of county officials last month after a complaint was filed to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. An initial investigation, with the help of public health departments in Garfield and Pitkin counties, led to the determination of four confirmed cases at the school, with more suspected.

Harmon’s office sent a letter Oct. 29 seeking cooperation with its investigation that asked the school to supply data about COVID-19 testing at the school for students and staff, details about any positive cases, copies of exposure notifications sent to families and Cornerstone staff, and student contact information.

The deadline for the school to provide the information was 2 p.m. Oct. 30, which school officials failed to meet. The school did provide a partial and incomplete response by the afternoon of Nov. 1 with the information that between Oct. 1 and Oct. 31, 11 students and staff members had reported positive cases, with one staff member dying from the virus.

Harmon mentioned Thursday that three more cases have emerged in the past two days, bringing the total to 14. And he also stated that the school’s inability to meet the Oct. 30 deadline came over a weekend in which a fall festival was held at the campus on Halloween, despite knowledge of the large number of COVID-19 cases and exposures associated with the school, with no known adequate mitigation processes and procedures in place.

Going to e-learning

To get the outbreak under control, the school has notified the county that it is moving students to e-learning. It had already moved certain cohorts to remote learning before the county had issued its letter Oct. 29.

“The protocols that were in place, as far as quarantining if anyone said they were sick, had symptoms, things like that, all of that was still happening,” Jones said. “I think it’s important that everyone know that it was not a situation where we weren’t doing anything at all. If someone reported an illness, they went home.”

The public health order that commissioners signed Thursday makes absolutely clear what the school needs to do when students and staff return. The school must report all positive cases of students and staff, it must report all previously requested information from the county, it must follow quarantine and isolation procedures for those who test positive or show symptoms, and face coverings will be required inside the school for those over the age of 2.

The order also says the school must cease and desist from tests performed by staff for other staff and students, and anyone who has not had a positive COVID-19 test in the past 90 days must be tested upon returning to school after quarantines have expired. Those who haven’t had a positive test in 90 days must also be tested two times a week until the order is expired or rescinded.

The school also cannot host any events for staff or students until the order is rescinded.

“I think it’s so important to have kids in the classroom, for the families and things like that,” Jones said. “But I think it’s absolutely necessary that we get this separation, as mentioned. In this process, it’s been a huge learning experience for all of us. I would just really reiterate that our intent was not to delay. Not to be an issue to the county. It was really logistical issues that we faced. The whole week has been a whirlwind for me.”

He added: “Our intent is to absolutely keep our students safe.”

Loose booster vaccine advice has Garfield County employers awaiting guidance on whether it might be required in some sectors

People line up outside the Garfield County Public Health Building in Glenwood Springs to receive their COVID booster vaccines.
Carrie Godes/Garfield County Public Health

Local employers who fall under state or federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements for their workers, or who are requiring them voluntarily, are awaiting word on whether that should extend to booster shots.

“We have not received that directive from the state at this time,” Annick Pruett, community relations director for Grand River Health in Rifle, said Thursday.

“I do know many of our staff have received the boosters already,” she said. That includes nearly all of Grand River Health’s physicians, she said.

Grand River and other state-licensed hospitals and health care facilities, including Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, fall under the state’s health care worker vaccine mandate.

Federal agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which both have a large workforce locally, fall under the federal mandate.

And many other area public and private employers have either required vaccines or strongly advised that their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.

But, with the clock ticking past six months since many people received their second doses in the spring, one question is whether the booster dose will also be required.

Updated CDC guidance sent out last week recommends Moderna and Pfizer recipients get a booster shot six months after the second dose.

Those who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago can now get a booster shot. And it doesn’t even have to be J&J. It can be either Moderna or Pfizer.

Regardless of the initial vaccine someone received, CDC says its OK to “mix and match” with another type of vaccine for the booster dose.

Under that guidance, priority is still given to people 65 years and older, residents of long-term care facilities, people ages 18 to 64 with underlying medical conditions and people ages 18 to 64 who live or work in places where COVID-19 exposure is heightened.

In Colorado, though, pretty much anyone who thinks they need a booster dose can arrange to get one at any vaccine site that’s offering the COVID-19 vaccine, according to followup guidance from state public health officials.

Recently, anyone who is entered in the MyColorado app database with a COVID-19 vaccination record and is six months out from their last dose likely received a text advising they’re due for a booster.

“People who are eligible should get their booster dose as soon as possible, especially as we approach the holidays and look forward to safely celebrating with our families and friends,” Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in an Oct. 21 news release.

Valley View Hospital hosted a booster clinic on Wednesday, administering shots to approximately 900 people, VVH Chief Community Relations Officer Stacey Gavrell said.

“It was a strong and busy clinic,” she said. “We targeted individuals per the CDC guidance for the clinic, essentially asking people to self-assess themselves relative to these guidelines and their personal eligibility.”

Gavrell said Valley View’s vaccination team will continue to gauge demand for boosters and said future COVID-19 booster clinics are likely.

“We are not experiencing the supply chain issue in regards to getting the vaccine as we did previously,” she said.

Boosting protection

Garfield County Public Health Specialist Mason Hohstadt said the county’s latest spike in new COVID-19 cases points up the importance for older residents in particular who are already vaccinated to get the booster.

The county now breaks out new cases by vaccination status. For the seven-day period ending Oct. 24, 143 of the 173 new cases confirmed were among people who were unvaccinated.

Just 30 of those cases were “breakthrough cases” among vaccinated people, according to the county’s COVID-19 data page.

While the majority of recent breakthrough cases have been among working-age people in the 30-39 and 40-49 age groups, 47% of breakthrough cases involve people over age 70, Hohstadt said.

“That does show the waning efficacy of the vaccine for those individuals in particular, which is why the booster shots are a necessary and needed thing,” he said.

To date, 73% of Garfield County’s eligible population have received at least one vaccine dose, and 66% are fully vaccinated.

Broken out by age, the county’s 70-79 age group has the highest vaccination rate (full), at 89%, followed closely by the 80+ and 60-69 age groups at 80%.

The remainder of the age group vaccination rates are as follows:

50-59 — 67%

40-49 — 64%

30-39 — 58%

19-29 — 59%

16-18 — 57%

12-15 — 54%

Anyone who is six months out from their last dose should seriously consider getting a booster, Hohstadt said.

“All of the things we expected the vaccine to do, it is doing, including waning efficacy,” he said.

Garfield County Public Health continues to offer vaccination clinics, including booster doses on request, during regular weekly clinic times.

The next clinics are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Nov. 3, 10 and 17 at the Glenwood Springs office, 2014 Blake Ave.; and Thursdays, Nov. 4 and 18 during the same hours in Rifle, 195 W. 14th St.

Vaccines are also administered at Valley View, Grand River Health, Mountain Family Health Centers, Glenwood Medical Associates and most private pharmacies.

Though clearance for the COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to children ages 5-11 is expected sometime in November, Garfield County Public Health spokeswoman Carrie Godes said it may not be available for that age group in Garfield County until December.

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

Garfield County records youngest COVID-19 death to date

Garfield County Public Health reported Tuesday that a 34-year-old male has died from COVID-19, the youngest person in the county to die from the virus since the pandemic began in spring 2020.

“The individual was unvaccinated and the youngest person in the county to pass away from the illness,” the county said in a news release.

To date, there have been 59 deaths in Garfield County due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Many of those have been in nursing homes across the county, where several outbreaks have occurred.

The breakthrough case rate among vaccinated people in the county stands at 1.1%, the county also reported.

To date, there have been 355 individuals testing positive for a breakthrough case of COVID-19 since Feb. 27, when the first breakthrough case was reported to Garfield County Public Health, the release states.

“Most COVID-19 cases occur among the unvaccinated,” county health officials advised. “When a larger proportion of a population is vaccinated, there will be a larger number of breakthrough cases. Garfield County is still seeing less severe disease and hospitalizations in vaccinated individuals.”

Of the 177 new cases confirmed for the seven-day period from Oct. 4-10, 137 were among unvaccinated individuals, according to the latest county statistics.

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 statistics and risk level

AS OF TUESDAY, OCT. 12

Cumulative cases: 7,657

Deaths since outbreak began: 59 confirmed

Current Risk Level: Orange-High Risk

Recent 7-day case totals: Oct. 6-12 – 194; Sept. 29-Oct. 5 – 117; Sept. 22-28 – 117

Cases by vaccination status for 7-day period ending 10/10: 137 among unvaccinated; 40 breakthrough cases among vaccinated.

Two-week daily case average: 27.71

Single-day high: 101 on 12/10/20

7-day incidence rate: 322.4 per 100,000 people

7-day test positivity rate: 11.5% (14-day: 9.4%)

7-day hospitalization rate: 21%

Vaccination rate by percent of county population: Fully vaccinated – 66%; One dose – 73%. For vaccination information, visit Garfield-County.com/public-health/covid-19-vaccine/

Source: Garfield County Public Health

HOSPITAL STATS (updated weekly)

Valley View Hospital, as of 10/5/2021

Specimens collected through Valley View Hospital: 37,701 (+584 since 9/28)

Positive results: 2,604 (+29 since 9/28)

Hospitalizations since outbreak began: 327 (6 new since 9/28)

Grand River Hospital, as of 10/5/2021

Specimens collected through Grand River Health: 10,230

Positive results: 2,027 (+33 since 9/28)

Hospitalizations since outbreak began: 67 (1 new since 9/28)

Source: Valley View and Grand River hospitals

ACTIVE OUTBREAKS IN GARFIELD COUNTY

(Updated 10/6)

St. Stephen Catholic School, Glenwood Springs: Date determined – 9/18; 6 student cases.

Glenwood Springs Healthcare: Date determined – 9/8; 1 resident and 1 staff case.

Chateau at Rifle: Date determined – 9/8; 2 resident and 2 staff cases.

Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home, Rifle: Date determined – 8/16; 8 resident cases, one death; 3 staff cases.

Source: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment COVID-19 outbreak data page; updated weekly on Wednesday

Flu vaccinations available

In addition to COVID-19 vaccines, seasonal flu vaccine clinics are being held this month at locations throughout Garfield County.

For a full list of clinic dates and locations, see the public health flu page.

The influenza virus changes every year, so getting vaccinated annually is important to make sure you have immunity, public health advises.

Flu symptoms appear one to four days after exposure to the virus and typically last between five to seven days. Even after symptoms resolve many individuals continue to feel fatigued. People who have had the flu shot generally have less severe symptoms over a shorter period.

Free COVID testing in Garfield County

There are two free community testing providers in Garfield County, and neither a doctor’s order nor identification are required. Sites accept both walk-ups and appointments, but do not have rapid tests available. If you have symptoms, or feel you have been exposed, get tested within one to two days. Test turnaround times are between 36-48 hours.

Roaring Fork Valley free COVID testing, Monday through Friday

Carbondale — 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the parking lot behind Town Hall, 511 Colorado Ave (Enter via 4th St.)

Glenwood Springs — 7-11 a.m. at the Roaring Fork School District Administration Building parking lot, 1405 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs

Rifle — 8 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Mountain Family Health Center parking lot, 195 W. 14th St., Bldg. C, Rifle (back side of parking lot, closest to the fairgrounds)

State of Colorado free COVID testing: 12-4 p.m. Sundays in Rifle, Public Health parking lot, 195 W. 14th St.

See Garfield County COVID testing for a complete list of testing providers including pharmacies and medical offices in Garfield County.

Ivermectin warning

Garfield County Public Health also notes that the FDA recently issued information on Ivermectin, a drug used to treat or prevent parasites in animals (not for fighting viruses).

“The FDA has received multiple reports of patients who have required medial support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses. Ivermectin is not FDA approved for use treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans,” the release states.

“The FDA’s job is to carefully evaluate the scientific data on a drug to be sure that it is both safe and effective for a particular use, and then to decide whether or not to approve it. Using any treatment for COVID-19 that’s not approved or authorized by the FDA, unless part of a clinical trial, can cause serious harm.

“Never use medications intended for animals on yourself. Ivermectin preparations for animals are very different from those approved for humans.”

Cornerstone Christian School pastor says his students should be exempt from mask mandate

Pastor Jim Tarr of Cornerstone Christian Church and School speaks to the Eagle County commissioners on Tuesday.
Image from video recording

The pastor of Cornerstone Christian Church in the midvalley appealed to the Eagle County commissioners this week to let his school determine its own policy on masks for students based on its religious status.

Pastor Jim Tarr, who also is president of Cornerstone Christian School, said the parents of students at the school should determine whether masks should be required rather than the Eagle County Health Department.

“In the role of society, children are not created to be obedient to any other system of government except for the wishes of their parents,” Tarr said Tuesday during the public comment portion of the county commissioners’ meeting.

He said the school isn’t forbidding masks as a precaution against COVID-19. It is letting families choose.

“There are a lot of parents who say, ‘I do not want to cover my child’s face for eight hours a day, five days per week, 180 days per year,’” he told commissioners.

Cornerstone Christian School is located along Highway 82 between El Jebel and Basalt. It has about 100 students enrolled.

Tarr took his case directly to the commissioners after he was told by the Eagle County Health Department the private Christian school must adhere to an indoor mask mandate that was extended Sept. 16 for all schools in the county. Tarr said his school requested a religious exemption.

“We didn’t hear anything for about three weeks, and that happened when we were reported to the county health department,” Tarr said. “So in that process, we began to meet with them and just said, ‘How can we navigate through this?’”

The answer from the health department was to mask up. It’s an answer Tarr didn’t like, and it led to some turmoil at Cornerstone Christian School.

Principal Emily Lambert submitted her resignation after the school determined it would defy the public health order. A meeting that was called for parents after Lambert’s resignation became “very polarizing” with “anti-maskers versus maskers,” a parent said.

At least three families withdrew children from the school after the controversy erupted, according to one such parent.

As the standoff between the Christian school and county unfolded, county officials said it was their intent to meet with Tarr and explain why masks were required as a precaution against COVID-19. They said they weren’t interested in a heavy-handed enforcement action.

The county commissioners didn’t engage in conversation with Tarr. It is policy not to respond to public comment. County manager Jeff Shroll said Wednesday that no resolution had been reached between CCS and the county health department.

Tarr indicated Tuesday he took offense at the tone of emails he received from the county health department.

“I just want you to understand the nature of the emails that were coming to me,” he told the county commissioners. “They would include language such as this — that the Legislature of the state of Colorado has granted to the directors of health departments, that they can, if we’re not complicit with their mandates during a crisis, they can actually take control of what happens on our property, they can quarantine. It also included this idea: If we don’t align with a mandate, then the penalty can be a $5,000 fine and 18 months in jail.”

Tarr closed his 12-minute presentation by noting that former President Barack Obama was able to host a birthday party and not wear a mask during the pandemic without fear of getting fined or imprisoned.

“But you know what, what do I get from Eagle County? With all due respect, I get emails that are threatening, that carry threatening messages to me,” Tarr said. “And here’s the thing: If our policy ends up with me getting arrested or paying a $5,000 fine — trust me, I only have about one and a half $5,000 fines in me — then we’re done. But the truth is this: If the county (health department) comes against me, you have to understand it will be like shooting a fish in a barrel. I’m a little church and a little school, and I’m saying, please, let us live according to our faith.”

While Tarr didn’t make the case that the COVID-19 disease passes over students in religious schools, he did note that no classrooms had to be closed last year at CCS because of the pandemic.

scondon@aspentimes.com