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Garfield County COVID-19 stats update

AS OF TUESDAY, June 21, 2022

Current Risk Level: Blue (cautious)

Cumulative cases since March 2020: 15,004

Recent 7-day case totals: June 15-21 – 94; June 8-14 – 108; June 1-7 – 97

One-week daily case average: 13.4

7-day incidence rate: 152.3 per 100,000 people

Single-day high: 293 on 01/13/22

Current number of county residents hospitalized with COVID-19: 2

Hospital capacity: Green (low risk)

COVID deaths since outbreak began: 95

Source: Garfield County Public Health

GARFIELD COUNTY OUTBREAKS

None as of June 15

COVID-19 UPDATE, Tuesday, June 7

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 statistics and risk level

AS OF TUESDAY, June 7, 2022

Current Risk Level: Blue (cautious)

Cumulative cases since March 2020: 14,799

Recent 7-day case totals: June 1-7 – 94; May 25-31 – 99; May 18-24 – 66

One-week daily case average: 13.4

7-day incidence rate: 152.3 per 100,000 people

Single-day high: 293 on 01/13/22

Current number of county residents hospitalized with COVID-19: 1

Hospital capacity: Green (low risk)

COVID deaths since outbreak began: 95

Source: Garfield County Public Health

GARFIELD COUNTY OUTBREAKS

Jaywalker Lodge, Carbondale: Reported 5/18/22, 11 resident cases, 10 staff cases.

Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home, Rifle: Reported 4/25/22, 4 staff cases, 1 resident case.

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

Carbondale hosts COVID vaccination clinic Saturday, including second boosters for ages 50+

The Carbondale Recreation Center will host a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Saturday, including newly approved second boosters or a fourth dose for qualified individuals.

Saturday’s clinic runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on an appointment basis, and is sponsored by the Colorado Department of Public Health. A few remaining appointment slots can be scheduled here, including a wait list option.

The Carbondale Recreation Center is located at 567 Colorado Ave. in Carbondale.

Moderna boosters are now available for those age 50+, as well as fifth doses for qualified immunocompromised individuals, per new Centers for Disease Control recommendations issued Tuesday.

The Carbondale clinic will also offer initial doses of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson adult vaccines, and the Pfizer pediatric vaccine (ages 5-11).

“There are more than 1 million adults 50 and older in Colorado who have received a third dose who are able to get a fourth dose following the CDC announcement,” according to a Tuesday CDPHE announcement. “The state has an estimated 470,000 doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in the field across Colorado, which are available for those eligible for both third and fourth doses.”

All vaccine clinics run by the state and also by Garfield County Public Health are now approved to give vaccines under the new CDC directive, Garfield County Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes said.

Other upcoming events where both adult and pediatric COVID-19 vaccines will be available include:

  • Grand River Health Fair, 501 Airport Road, Rifle, 5:30-11:30 a.m. April 9 (no appointment needed)
  • Garfield County Public Health, 2014 Blake Ave., Glenwood Springs, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 20 (appointment required here)
  • Child Safety Fair, Rifle Middle School, 753 Railroad Ave., 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 29 (no appointment needed)
  • 9Health Fair, Glenwood Springs High School, 1521 Grand Ave., 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 7 (no appointment needed)

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

Lifted mask mandate won’t excuse Aspen hospital, airport, buses

Although the indoor mask mandate will end on Feb. 22, some businesses will continue enforcing the mandate. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Tuesday can’t come soon enough for those over and done with Pitkin County’s indoor mask mandate, but a few places will still require people to wear face-coverings for admission.

Among them are Aspen’s airport and hospital and the local public buses, all of which will continue to acknowledge state and federal guidelines regarding mask-wearing.

“Although the mask mandate may be lifted for Pitkin County, for the hospital itself, which still has to follow the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and the state guidelines, that mask mandate will not be lifted,” said Elaine Gerson, AVH’s chief operating officer, at the hospital’s monthly board meeting held Monday. “Masks will continue to be required if you are coming to the hospital for any services whatsoever.”

Varying mask mandates and guidelines for health care providers and facilities have come from both state and federal agencies, and those rules supersede orders at the local level.

In its Feb. 2 interim COVID-19 guidelines for health care personnel, the CDC said that “source control and physical distancing (when physical distancing is feasible and will not interfere with provision of care) are recommended for everyone in a health care setting.“

Source control is a reference to respirators, face masks and cloth masks.

The Colorado Board of Health’s rule requiring 100% vaccination rates for licensed health care facilities by Oct. 31, which has been in effect since Aug. 30, also remains in force.

As well, AVH will continue to adhere to the vaccination mandate by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is the federal agency that establishes health and safety regulations for health care providers and suppliers that are Medicare- and Medicaid-certified.

“We are governed by federal rules and regulations because we accept Medicare as a payer source,” Gerson said.

In November, CMS posted its IFC, which stands for Interim Final Rule with Comment Period, regarding vaccinations for health care settings.

“We believe that the COVID-19 vaccine requirements in this IFC will result in nearly all health care workers being vaccinated, thereby benefiting all individuals in health care settings,” said the IFC. “This will greatly contribute to a reduction in the spread of and resulting morbidity and mortality from the disease, positive steps towards health equity, and an improvement in the numbers of health care staff who are healthy and able to perform their professional responsibilities.”

Both the CMS’s mandate as well as one from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s mandate, which had required vaccination and COVID-19 tests for employers with at least 100 workers, met legal challenges that the U.S. Supreme Court addressed in January. The high court upheld the CMS mandate through a 5-4 decision, but ruled 6-3 that OSHA exceeded its authority and blocked its vaccination and testing requirements.

AVH also will continue to conduct COVID-19 screenings (temperature check and COVID symptom questions) for people who enter the facility.

“We don’t expect the screening guidelines will end anytime soon,” Gerson said.

People at least 2 years of age still are required by federal law to wear masks on public transportation — including planes, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses, trains and other modes to get around. Transportation hubs also require masks under orders adopted by the Transportation Security Administration.

“Face coverings are mandatory in the Aspen Airport per TSA Executive Order,” according to the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport’s website.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Eagle County formally ends legal action against Basalt school over mask mandate

Eagle County government filed a motion Monday to dismiss its legal action against Cornerstone Christian School over a mask mandate and other health issues.

The county in December filed a complaint and request for a preliminary injunction to require students and staff at the school to wear masks during hours of operation. However, the county commissioners voted as the county Board of Health on Jan. 14 to let the mask mandate expire on Jan. 17 for high schools and Jan. 21 for younger grades.

“Accordingly, given that the mask-mandate at the center of this case has now been lifted by Plaintiffs, and because Defendant has agreed to comply with state reporting and licensing requirements in the future, the issues set forth in Plaintiff’s complaint have become moot,” the county’s new motion said.

Cornerstone Christian School is located in the Roaring Fork Valley between Basalt and El Jebel. Pastor Jim Tarr, executive director of the school, told county officials on multiple occasions the school’s position is that the decision on masks should be up to parents. The county disagreed and said a mask mandate required in the public health order required compliance by all public and private schools.

The initial complaint also alleged that Cornerstone was violating Colorado law by not reporting COVID-19 test results at the school to the county. The school has agreed to share test results.

Eagle County Bryan Treu issued a statement Monday regarding the notice of dismissal.

“This dismissal was not based on any arguments or defenses raised by Cornerstone,” he said. “Rather, it was based on the school mask mandate being lifted by our public health director, Cornerstone’s asserted commitments to adhere to state requirements for COVID-19 case reporting, and inspections at the child care center. As a result, we know feel this matter is moot. We are hopeful that continued compliance efforts and disease trends make further action on our part unnecessary, but we remain ready to bring necessary enforcement actions in the future to keep our community safe.”

scondon@aspentimes.com

Garfield County commissioners want schools to not lean too heavily on public health for COVID policies

Garfield County commissioners would rather public and private schools be allowed to set their own rules at this stage of the game around COVID-19 policies, rather than leaning too heavily on county public health to make those calls.

Not that that hasn’t been the case up to this point, commissioners and county public health officials said Monday.

But a resolution stating that public health only gives guidance, and doesn’t dictate those policies, is warranted, said the commissioners, sitting as the county Board of Health for the monthly COVID-19 update.

“It’s been our direction to public health from the beginning to defer decision-making to the school boards or private schools on these health issues,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

A formal resolution clarifying that schools in Garfield County can make their own decisions based on their individual circumstances is expected to be before the commissioners for consideration at a special Board of Health meeting next week.

Jankovsky’s comments came at the beginning and were restated at the end of a meeting attended by several Garfield Re-2 and a few Roaring Fork School District parents seeking clarification on the matter.

Many expressed frustration that the student isolation and quarantine protocols that schools continue to follow, under guidance from public health, seem excessive at this juncture.

Mask rules, which differ between the three school districts in the county, also continue to be a point of contention for some parents

“COVID is not killing our children,” said Re-2 parent Michelle Williams, “but we are killing our children with these guidelines.”

Carbondale resident Jill Edinger, who has been making the rounds speaking to commissioners from Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, said the mental health toll on both children and parents is at the breaking point.

“I’m not tolerating this anymore,” Edinger said of ongoing quarantine protocols at her children’s primary and preschools in Glenwood Springs and Eagle County.

“I don’t want to hear, ‘kids are resilient’ anymore, because that’s just not the case for everyone,” she said. “The tide is shifting, but we need your pressure to help. Please stand up for our kids.”

Commissioner Mike Samson said he sympathized with the parents and their frustrations around the public health protocols, and especially the mask rules in schools.

“Masks are appropriate at certain times,” he said, referencing grocery stores and other private entities that require masks.

“If their policy says to wear a mask, I need to respect that, … but I don’t like the idea of children wearing a mask in school,” Samson said.

Ultimately, that decision is up to those running the schools, though, not the county, he said.

Regarding the schools, it’s also more an issue of staffing and having multiple teachers out sick and unable to teach that is driving the mask requirements, Samson observed.

Re-2 School Board President Meriya Stickler also attended the Monday commissioners meeting. The mask rule was implemented districtwide from Rifle to New Castle in late September last year to try to limit the number of quarantines that were becoming necessary, due to public health guidance.

“It is in the best interests of Re-2 to stop the quarantines, because we can’t manage it any longer,” she said, asking county public health to “release” the district from the current protocols that call for students and staff who test positive to isolate for a given period of time, and for those exposed to anyone who tests positive to also quarantine and not go to school.

“We do need some direction from public health that we won’t be responsible for that any longer,” she said.

Two of the newly elected members on the Re-2 board, Tony May and Britton Fletchall, during a meeting last week said they want the district to do away with all COVID protocols. (Read more about that in Thursday’s Citizen Telegram.)

The push comes as Garfield County, Colorado and much of the nation are seeing a huge spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases with the new omicron variant.

Though more contagious — even among those who are vaccinated, causing the case numbers to increase to levels never before seen in the county — the illness caused by omicron so far appears to be less severe, Garfield County Public Health Director Joshua Williams said during the Monday meeting.

That surge in new cases — hovering around 1,000 per week with a test positivity rate over 30% — is expected to peak this week or next, then begin to subside, he said.

Statewide modeling is showing that, as well, Williams said.

Hospitalization rates among county residents who contract COVID remain manageable, he said. However, the contagiousness among younger children and the emergence of croup as a new symptom in that age group, is cause for continued caution, he also said.

Because of the extreme number of cases currently, contact tracing for public health workers is now limited to individuals at highest risk for serious illness or death. That includes both older adults and children, Williams said.

Among the seven current outbreaks that are being monitored in the county, many are in long-term nursing care facilities and group homes, which remains a serious concern, he said.

The county commissioners also mentioned possibly calling a separate meeting inviting schools officials to further discuss the current situation with the pandemic and get some more clarification around the public health guidance. No specific date was set.

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

Omicron causes new symptom in children, as young infection rates increase

COVID-19 cases reported in children younger than 5 have quadrupled since the week of Christmas, and the omicron variant is causing a concerning new symptom: croup, a Garfield County Public Health spokesperson said Friday.

“This is a significant enough change in the behavior of COVID-19 that we wanted to make sure the community was aware of what’s happening out there with our children,” said Carrie Godes, a GCPH public health specialist. “As a parent, croup can be a very scary symptom to deal with.”

Cases in that youngest of age groups in the county went from an average of just one or two per day in late December to more than five per day at one point last week, which Garfield Public Health is continuing to monitor.

Croup is an infection of the upper airway and causes a barking cough, which often presents at night after children lay down for bed, said Dr. David Brooks, who works with Valley View Hospital’s pediatrics team.

“Each wave (of COVID-19) has had its unique characteristics,” Brooks said. “This wave is croup. “The severity for the general population has not been as bad as previous waves. In contrast, in kids, we are seeing far more hospitalizations (in Garfield County and across Colorado).”

GCPH Public Health Nurse Rachel Kappler said they’ve tracked 51 cases of COVID-19 in children during the past week, and 29% of the total cases tracked in children younger than 5 since 2020 have occurred in the last month.

“This time last year, we only had 19 reported cases in this age group,” Kappler said, “compared to 79, now.”

While croup has not increased the lethality of COVID-19 among children, it is a cause for concern because children younger than 5 cannot be vaccinated for COVID-19, she said.

Parents with children suffering from croup have a few options for decreasing the symptoms. Brooks said he advises parents to start a hot shower, then as the bathroom is filling with steam, they can briefly take their child out into the cool night air before returning to the bathroom and letting the child breath in the steam, which could help clear their airways. A humidifier in the child’s room can also help reduce symptoms.

“COVID croup is very similar to the croup we’ve dealt with for years and years,” Brooks said. “Occasionally for severe courses, we can have them in the hospital.”

In extreme cases, children might be transported to the Children’s Medical Center in Denver.

Primary care providers are available 24 hours a day throughout the valley if parents have concerns about their children’s symptoms, Brooks said.

Wearing masks around children can reduce the virus’ spread, but the primary defense against increased COVID-19 infection rates is ensuring everyone eligible in the family group is vaccinated.

“There’s no doubt vaccines work,” Brooks said. “Protect your kids by vaccinating yourself.”

Go to Garfield-County.com for more information about COVID-19 prevention, spread and statistics.

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

Omicron spread in Garfield County cause for concern, but flag not as red as with delta

Nancy Singleton leaves the tent to speak with drivers at the free COVID-19 testing site in Rifle on a busy Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self/ Post Independent

COVID-19 statistics are off the charts amid the omicron variant surge, pushing Garfield County to red-alert in terms of the risk of community spread for the first time in about a year as case numbers have spiked following the holidays.

What it all means at this point in the pandemic, though, is a matter of perspective.

Public health contact tracing has become limited mostly to cases involving the highest-risk individuals, and federal and state guidance around isolating after testing positive or quarantining after being exposed to the virus is evolving to a less-strict standard.

While the rate of community spread in Garfield County and across Colorado and the United States is cause for concern, especially as it relates to those most at risk of serious illness or death, there’s also a decidedly calmer tone regarding the latest spike.

A surge in cases of the current magnitude — topping 250 new cases per day on multiple days over the last week in Garfield County, and over 1,000 cases in the most recent seven-day period for the first time ever since the pandemic began — had it happened this time last year, might have resulted in a return to mandatory business shutdowns, an end to large gatherings and other intensive measures not seen since before the COVID-19 vaccine was rolled out in early 2021.

Nancy Singleton carries a test tube vial back to the tent at the Rifle COVID-19 testing site near the fairgrounds on a busy Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self/ Post Independent

New Garfield County Public Health Director Joshua Williams and Public Health Specialist Mason Hohstadt referenced a recent medical opinion article from the Journal of the American Medical Association in the public health department’s weekly report to the county commissioners, who sit as the county’s Board of Health.

The article makes the point that COVID-19 is here to stay, and it now becomes a matter of adjusting to the “new normal” of living with and adapting to changes in the virus, and moving beyond the emergency response aspect of the pandemic.

“In delineating a national strategy, humility is essential … recognizing that predictions are necessary but educated guesses, not mathematical certainty,” the authors of the article note. “The incidence of SARS-CoV-2, vaccination rates, hospital capacity, tolerance for risk and willingness to implement different interventions will vary geographically, and national recommendations will need to be adapted locally.”

Nancy Singleton hands out business cards directing people where and how to register for COVID-19 testing at the Rifle sire near the fairgrounds on Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self/ Post Independent

So far, the rapid spread of the new omicron variant locally looks to be different from a public health perspective compared to the delta variant that dominated for most of last year, Williams said.

“This is a broader conversation that’s occurring at the federal, state and local levels, and throughout the whole team of people that we work with it will continue to be discussed,” he said. “We’re still in this pandemic, but we’re moving through it.”

Illness associated with the more-contagious omicron variant so far appears to be less severe for most, especially for vaccinated individuals or those who’ve had a previous case of COVID-19. But that’s not always the case, especially for older adults and those whose health is already compromised, public health officials also note.

Vaccination still key

Though the number of breakthrough omicron cases among vaccinated individuals is alarming, vaccination is still a key tool to prevent serious infections, Hohstadt said.

Garfield County sits at about 64% of its eligible population being fully vaccinated, with about 43% of those eligible having received the recommended booster dose.

“We do know that (omicron) has proven to evade both natural immunity and vaccine-acquired immunity for individuals (after a certain period of time),” Hohstadt said during a Monday interview along with Williams.

Breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals are up compared to what public health saw during the delta surge.

Nancy Singleton puts on new gloves inside the tent at the free COVID-19 testing site in Rifle near the fairgrounds on Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self/ Post Independent

According to Garfield County’s COVID-19 data web page, for the seven-day period ending Jan. 2, out of 678 new cases reported in the county, nearly as many (320) were among vaccinated individuals as unvaccinated (358). When delta was the dominant variant, the county was seeing about a 70/30 split between cases among the unvaccinated and vaccinated, respectively.

Omicron has lowered the efficacy of the vaccine for individuals who are six months removed from their last dose to about 35%, Hohstadt noted.

A booster dose upped that to nearly 65%, which is good, but still not the 90% or more efficacy when the vaccine first became available to the general public last spring.

“Although most people seem to be having milder symptoms, I don’t want to diminish the fact that not everyone is going to have a minor case with omicron,” Hohstadt said.

Hospitalization of COVID-19 patients is at an all-time high in many parts of the country, especially in urban areas. Locally, however, hospitalizations have remained in check. As of Tuesday, public health was tracking 10 hospitalizations among county residents — four vaccinated and four unvaccinated.

Case counts, in context

As for the massive increase in new cases recently, much of that has to do with an increase in testing, Hohstadt said.

The various testing sites in Garfield County collected 4,359 COVID-19 test samples from Jan. 4-10, which was almost 2.5 times higher than just after Thanksgiving in November and early December, he said.

The most-recent seven-day test positivity rate in the county is 30.7%, also about 2.5 times higher than the county has seen since the start of the pandemic, even at its peak.

“Recent case counts have been considerably high,” Hohstadt said. “We hope that we are following previous patterns, where we have two weeks of high case counts, followed by a decrease.”

The vast majority of positive results from home rapid tests are not being reported to public health, he added, meaning the numbers are actually higher. Testing at home or at one of the many free PCR lab-confirmed testing sites in the area is also still an effective tool to help prevent disease spread, he said.

“Once people know that they have COVID, they can self-isolate and take the appropriate steps to keep others from getting sick,” Hohstadt said.

Because of the rapid spread and the sheer number of new cases, not all of those cases are being contact-traced by public health, Williams said.

Priority is being given to cases involving people over age 70 or under age 18, and anyone who required hospitalization or is immuno-compromised due to an underlying health condition, he said.

“Anyone who would be considered high risk we are following up with,” Williams said.

Cases at corrections facilities and group homes, including nursing homes, also take precedence, he also said.

That includes a current outbreak at the Garfield County Community Corrections Center in Rifle, where eight residents and one staff member have tested positive.

Nancy Singleton tells a driver the testing process at the free COVID-19 testing location in Rifle on Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self/ Post Independent

As with an earlier outbreak at the minimum security work-release facility, some residents were released early or are staying at nearby hotels. Others are being monitored inside the facility, he said.

“We have been working closely with them. They have a plan of approach, and we feel like they are managing it well and got on it quickly,” Williams said.

School quarantine concerns

Meanwhile, a small group of St. Stephens School parents spoke before the county commissioners at their regular Monday meeting expressing frustration over ongoing school quarantine protocols involving students who haven’t tested positive but who were in contact with a student who did test positive.

Local attorney Jill Edinger said she was speaking on behalf of herself and other parents from multiple schools who are at their wits end with the constant quarantine and switch to remote learning for blocks of students who’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 case, even if they haven’t tested positive themselves.

What might have made sense in the early days of the pandemic seems senseless now, she said.

“Myself, and so many parents of young children are falling apart at the seams because of policies that are in place that make no sense,” Edinger said. “This is not sustainable. … I need to work, and my children deserve and need to go to school.”

Another parent, Morgan Warth, who said she works as a family therapist, said the mental health toll on families is more severe than the virus itself.

“Harm is being done to children and families,” she said.

County commissioners said decisions about quarantine protocols are up to the local school boards and officials running the local charter and private schools, which follow Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“We agree with you; things need to be opened back up,” Commission Chairman John Martin said. “But it’s not our call.”

At the same time, commissioners said they will continue to apply pressure at the state level and other levels of government to relax some of the rules.

New CDPHE and CDC guidance around COVID isolation and quarantine was issued just last week, which is expected to be a topic of discussion as Garfield County school boards meet this month. The matter is on the agenda for an update before the Roaring Fork School District board on Wednesday. The Garfield Re-2 board also has a COVID-19 update on its agenda that same night.

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

Roaring Fork School District adopts 5-day isolation period for COVID-19


The Roaring Fork School District announced on Monday the adoption of the five-day isolation and quarantine period for COVID-19 among asymptomatic individuals.

The new protocols took effect Tuesday morning as the district continued to scramble to fulfill student supervision requirements in schools due to staffing absences and shortages.

“That will actually have a pretty big impact on getting people back to school where it will reduce the impact we’re seeing,” Roaring Fork School District Public Information Officer Kelsy Been said.

The updated protocols align with new Centers for Disease Control and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment guidelines. The CDC decreased the asymptomatic quarantine time from 10 days to five on Dec. 27, 2021.

Under the new guidelines, a student in kindergarten or higher can return from quarantine six days after exposure if they are asymptomatic, have not tested positive over the course of their quarantine, are not immunocompromised or at risk of severe disease and have worn a mask universally outside of their home.

Individuals isolating can return to school six days after exposure can return if they are a kindergartner or older, have not had a fever in the past 24 hours, have shown improvement with all other symptoms and have been wearing a mask universally outside of their home.

These changes do not apply to symptomatic individuals, who should continue to isolate until symptoms begin to resolve and they meet the criteria above, the CDC states.

The CDC defines quarantining as staying away from others when an individual has been in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case. Isolation is defined as feeling ill or being infected with the virus — symptomatic or not.

Quarantine can be avoided altogether for fully vaccinated individuals above the age of 17 that are vaccinated with boosters, 5-17 year olds who have the primary series of vaccines or individuals who have had COVID within the previous 90 days.

As of Monday, the district had 109 students across 11 cohorts and two staff members in quarantine, according to its COVID data tracking dashboard.

Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or rallen@postindependent.com.

Vaccine push, variants dominated the COVID conversation in 2021

A patient receives her COVID-19 vaccine at the Voces Unidas vaccine clinic in Glenwood on Saturday.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Pandemic optimism ended with the emergence of the omicron COVID-19 variant and uncertainty as the first full calendar year of COVID-19 comes to a close.

The year began in a decline of case counts in Garfield County, bottoming out in the summer before beginning a slow ascent with the spread of the delta variant and leading up to the current spike of the new, highly transmissible omicron version of the virus.

Vaccination rates climbed. Restrictions and protocols changed.

As of Dec. 28, more than 5,500 Garfield County residents had contracted COVID-19 over the past 365 days, and 52 died from complications.

December spike in the rearview, vaccines begin rolling out … slowly

Following a December 2020 that saw more than 100 new COVID-19 positives in a single day and a 14-day average that has not been even approached since, the year began with the residuals of the pandemic’s highest spike and the promise of vaccination rollouts.

However, access to vaccines quickly put up a roadblock for many. In mid-January, it was not an issue of how many vaccines Garfield County’s health care network could administer, but how it would get enough to meet that capacity.

On Jan. 18, Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long said that, at that point, her organization had received roughly half of the doses of the vaccination it had requested.

Eligible recipients were put on wait lists as only 200 to 600 doses were made available locally in a given week — “nothing to be able to start any sort of mass vaccination program,” Long said at the time.

Grand River and Valley View hospitals had administered just over 4,000 doses of the vaccine at the time.

Schools, sports back in action

After the cancellation of fall sports, all hands were on deck in the “B” and “C” spring seasons. Winter sports kicked off in mid-January and fall sports began in March, igniting a frenzy of preps action.

Glenwood Springs Demon Miah Suarez looks to get the ball passed to her during the season opener against the Basalt Longhorns.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Meanwhile, just before the start of competitions, local schools continued to feel the effects of the virus. Roaring Fork High School saw in-person classes canceled just weeks into the semester out of precaution. Eleven days later, Carbondale Middle School quarantined its entire fifth grade.

In early February, the Roaring Fork School District reached a 90% vaccination rate within its staff.

Vaccine availability spreads

In late March, Gov. Jared Polis announced that all Colorado residents over the age of 16 were eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. At that point, the state had administered vaccinations to more than 1.5 million individuals. High-risk individuals were still prioritized, and Polis estimated mid-to-late May for all Coloradans who wanted the vaccine to have received it. Mask mandates were still in place, but optimism was rising for a “normal summer,” as Polis put it.

On the same day, Garfield County jumped back to yellow (concern) level on the COVID-19 dial with blue-level (caution) business restrictions as case numbers rose locally. A total of 82 new cases contributed to an incidence rate of 146.3 per 100,000 people.

As cases rose and vaccines became more accessible, incentives for getting inoculated began appearing. RFTA offered $500 bonuses to its 385 employees for getting vaccinated in mid-April.

Reopening

By mid-April, Garfield County residents were “encouraged” — but not mandated — to continue wearing masks indoors and follow health-safety practices. Masks were still required in some settings like large indoor gatherings and nursing homes, but a vaccination rate above 40% created tempered optimism locally.

People walk around downtown Glenwood both masked and unmasked.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“The great news is that we have already protected a sizeable portion of our most vulnerable population,” said Drs. Kevin Coleman and Matt Percy, chief medical officers respectively for Grand River Health and Mountain Family Health Centers, in a letter to the Garfield County commissioners. “However, we still have not vaccinated enough of the general public to prevent rapid spread of COVID-19 if other public health measures are removed.”

The rolling 14-day average of cases on April 19 was 9.89 in Garfield County, with 12 new cases that day.

Emergency declaration ends

On May 17, as new cases dropped into the single digits per day, Garfield County rescinded its pandemic emergency declaration.

“This allows us to move into a period of normalcy here in Garfield County,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

Just two days before, the county reported a lone new positive case for the second time in a week. More than half of the eligible population — ages 12 and up — had received at least one shot of the vaccine.

Businesses were permitted to operate at 100% occupancy without health-safety measures in place, if the staff was fully vaccinated.

Some businesses and entities continued to implement mask mandates and social distancing, but the outlook on the pandemic was maybe the brightest it had ever been.

Delta

The optimism began to dwindle as one of the first significant variants of the virus made its way to Colorado.

Just as the emergency declaration ended, delta began being detected in Garfield County. By June 10, six cases of the variant were detected in the county.

On June 21, the county returned to yellow-level restrictions.

Positive case rates began to climb once again, breaking back into the double digits in the 14-day average on July 12.

To get the shot or not get the shot?

As the school year approached, cases plateaued in August. The two-week average sat around nine new positives a day. Attention diverted more toward the flooding closings in Glenwood Canyon. But as the month came to an end, the state’s Board of Health approved an emergency requirement that all staff of licensed health care facilities be vaccinated.

Valley View, Grand River and Aspen Valley eventually saw members of their workforce deemed ineligible to provide care. Protests erupted and exemptions were requested — and granted, in some limited cases.

A man in a jeep shows his support for the freedom of choice rally against mandated vaccines outside of Valley View Hospital on Monday evening.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

By the Sept. 30 deadline, 97% of Valley View’s staff were in compliance. A final rally was the holdouts’ last stand.

When the school year arrived, Roaring Fork School District and Garfield Re-2 went different ways with their protocols. The former started the year with masks, the latter held out on a mandate. However, Re-2 implemented one a month into the school year, which was met with protests. The district recorded 26 positive cases between the start of school and mask implementation, according to its internal data.

Two schools saw outbreaks locally, as Cornerstone Christian in Basalt was placed under a Pitkin County health order following the death of a staff member, and Carbondale charter school Ross Montessori saw the largest outbreak in Garfield County, both in November.

Omicron

The latest, highly transmissible variant was first detected in Garfield County in mid-December. It was the first known case of omicron on the Western Slope.

Since the end of September, cases had climbed back into the range of 20 new cases daily for the first time since January. As the holidays approached, events were put in jeopardy and canceled. As the new year arrives, Garfield County case numbers are averaging in the 30s per day across a two-week span, and much of the optimism expressed over the early days of summer feel distant. The county is once again at an orange level of concern as the two-year anniversary of the pandemic in Garfield County approaches in March.

Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or rallen@postindependent.com.