County chugging along with its coronavirus mitigation

County hopes you fill out the vaccination info form soon

[ By Mark Reaman and Katherine Nettles ]

Based on the number of coronavirus vaccine doses Gunnison County is currently receiving each week from the state, everyone in the county could expect to be vaccinated by June 2022. That is based on the county getting 200 new doses every week and a total population of 17,000 people, so 72 more weeks would be needed at the current pace to get everyone a shot in the arm.

“There are some caveats there,” explained Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom. “It is likely that not everyone will take the vaccine. We are also hopeful that available doses increase as opposed to staying flat. It is likely there could be a couple of other manufacturers that get FDA approvals soon, which could help boost supplies. But there are 400 second-doses to be administered this week. We have an additional 200 first doses for this week. It seems we have pretty consistently been receiving 200 first doses per week. It is unclear to us if the state will keep up this pace. There has been talk of slowing down doses in counties that are further ahead in the phases so that all areas of the state are vaccinating the same individuals, but right now we are continuing on a steady pace.”

The county’s vaccination process is moving smoothly, according to officials. In an update to county commissioners on Tuesday, January 26, Gunnison County public health director Joni Reynolds said there have been 2,750 doses administered to date, and 467 individuals have received both doses.

Reynolds also said 90 percent of residents in assisted living facilities and long-term care facilities will be fully vaccinated this week as that group receives a second dose through a partnership with Walgreens.

The administration process is still in Phase 1, which targets health care workers, long term care workers, EMS, first responders and anyone over the age of 70.

But everyone is encouraged to fill out the vaccine interest form available online, including those who don’t want a vaccine. Reynolds said very few people have indicated on the interest form that they do not want a vaccine.

“We are beginning to diminish our pool of individuals in the phases above the dotted line,” said Sandstrom. “We are encouraging folks, even if they are not until far future phases or if they don’t want the vaccine, to sign up! This allows us to continue to request doses from the state.”

Regarding what is being called vaccination tourism, commissioner Jonathan Houck said the number of people from other counties or states coming to Gunnison County to receive a vaccine is not significant. He said he has joined San Miguel county leadership and others across the state. “We are going straight to the governor’s office to say, ‘let’s not squabble over what your driver’s license says. Just get us vaccines.’”

Reynolds agreed vaccination tourism is not worth going after. “More than 90 percent of those vaccinated here so far have had driver’s licenses in Gunnison County,” she said.

As for the number of cases being seen in the county, they have leveled off a bit but remain higher than what county officials would ideally like. “It appears that our numbers have slowed a bit from the last couple of weeks but it might be a bit too early to call it a trend,” Sandstrom said.
Reynolds said she prefers to compare our numbers with those from August. “We’ve definitely seen an increase. And we’ve definitely seen spikes…where we are is double July and August,” she said.

“Our case numbers are one of the highest in the state, along with other ski town areas like San Miguel and Pitkin.”

In the last couple of weeks there were two mass testing events, and Western Colorado University did a mass testing as well. “More testing will lead to finding more positives,” said Sandstrom. “That being said, more testing also should yield a lower positivity rate. That is why in our Coronameter system we look at multiple metrics. Positivity and case rate work in concert—they cannot be separated. We continue to do a good job of contact tracing. Over the past several weeks, we have seen that anywhere between 25 percent and 60 percent of our positive cases were already in quarantine because of contact tracing. So while these mass-testing events bring out more positives, it also allows us to aggressively contact trace, quarantine and stop the next generation of spread. While it might be too early to call the downward movement in cases a trend, some of that could be due to the work of contact tracing in squashing the second generation of spread. We also are finding a number of asymptomatic cases via the mass testing. This empowers people to know that they could be spreading and they stay home. Without the mass testing it is possible that they could spread to others unknowingly.”

One sudden hot spot was the Paradise Place Preschool that Sandstrom said saw a sudden increase in positive tests from teachers. No one is showing serious signs but the school has closed for a week while everyone quarantines and the staff gets tested.

The county is preparing to set up free testing clinics once a week at both ends of the valley. Details are still being worked out but Sandstrom said, “The hope is that we find more asymptomatic folks to stop individuals from unknowingly spreading the virus. It is very likely that fewer people will show up as the weeks go on. We will continue to run our normal testing sites that serve symptomatic, contact tracing and other testing. Ultimately the goal is to remain under a 5 percent positivity rate. It is likely that by doing more testing, like the free community testing, this goal is much more attainable. When the bulk of our testing is for symptomatic individuals and contact tracing, naturally our positivity will be higher. By doing routine community testing at the free testing events as well as the testing happening at the schools and at Western, we get a much more accurate picture of the community-wide positivity rates.”
Reynolds said she is looking forward to more national leadership ahead, and also to state efforts to approach testing and vaccines in a more coordinated fashion.

“People are saying they see a light at the end of the tunnel. I certainly see the tunnel ahead, but we are not in it yet, and I cannot see a light,” said Reynolds.

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