County starting to consider long-term COVID planning
[ By Mark Reaman ]
Another surprise bundle of the coronavirus vaccine will allow more people than normal to get their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine this week in Gunnison County.
Thanks to a shipment of 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the start of February, more people than anticipated received a shot in the arm Wednesday and Thursday. Originally the county only administered 500 shots and kept 500 in the ultra-cold freezer to administer as a second dose in three weeks. “Initially when we received the Pfizer shipment last week from the state, they informed us that we had to hold onto vials for second doses,” explained Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom. “On Monday, the state confirmed that we will receive another shipment as second doses so that we should administer the rest as first doses this week.” Sandstrom said that along with the regular doses of the Moderna vaccine the county receives weekly, this will allow between 500 and 600 people to get their first vaccination this week. About 420 second doses will also be administered Thursday.
“The county is doing a really good job of getting the vaccines and administering it efficiently at the Fred Field House,” Sandstrom said. “Plus it’s a nice atmosphere down there. People are happy to be out and the volunteers are doing a great job in keeping it all moving. These clinics are sort of fun. We are still looking for ways to be more efficient but it is a pretty well-oiled machine.”
Looking to the future
The county’s Incident Command Team is beginning to look into the future and considering how best to set up the county to deal with the idea of a lingering coronavirus. Sandstrom said the feeling is that given the mutations being seen with the virus, this coronavirus will be sort of like a flu or a cold that might reemerge seasonally.
“We are looking at long-term planning and figuring out what has worked well so far and what can be used again if we need to address a new outbreak and ramp it all up. We have talked about how can we increase capacity again if we need to,” he said. “All viruses mutate and this one being so widespread that is to be expected. It is hard to say which direction this will go. Will it be more serious and even more deadly? Will it be more benign? The state is taking samples from various places and thus far no variant has been spotted from here. The United Kingdom variant has been detected in the state but we have not seen anything here. We are still learning more about how the vaccine is effective with the variant but thus far there is no solid evidence of anything.”
The local health officials are starting an effort to build up more testing capability for people in the county since the concern is that some form of the virus could linger for years.
“We’ve been operating in emergency response mode and it is time to consider and plan toward dealing with it in our regular health care system,” Sandstrom said. “We want to move toward shared responsibility in the normal health care system instead of coming under incident command.”
Testing and state changes
The state made changes to some of its COVID protocols and restrictions but it should have little impact on Gunnison County. Based on the state’s new calculator, some large spaces such as restaurants more than 30,000 square feet, can now hold up to 150 people instead of 100. The state’s coronavirus dial keeps Gunnison County in the yellow restriction phase that is close to equivalent to the local Coronameter’s blue phase. So nothing will change right away since the county has been in blue for several months.
Sandstrom said the state is now looking at case rates over a seven-day period instead of 14 so that could change the threshold. In that vein, the county is pulling back on its community testing idea since they don’t want to show large spikes with case positivity that could jeopardize the current loose restrictions.
“For the long-term vision we want to ramp up our testing capacity at Gunnison Valley Hospital,” explained Sandstrom. “The hope is to have the capability to administer 100 tests a day for five days a week at GVH starting next week. Looking at results from that timeline of testing would give us a better look at the current trend compared to doing one mass testing every couple of weeks.”
He said while testing done at GVH is not free unless a person is symptomatic, the hope is to make it free eventually as capacity is built up.
The county is still planning to hold both free Crested Butte and Gunnison mass testing clinics at the end of the spring break period in late March. The Gunnison event is slated for March 26 while Crested Butte would have a clinic on March 27.