COVID-19 numbers in county stay prickly

Anyone here who is eligible for a vaccine is eligible…full-time residency not a requirement

[ By Mark Reaman and Kendra Walker ]

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Gunnison County remains stubbornly high. The official data studio number shows the county crossed the 1,000-person mark this week as 1,017 people were tallied to have tested positive since last spring. The key however is that no one is hospitalized with a severe case and that metric is allowing the county to stay with relatively loose coronavirus restrictions.

“The fact is we are currently riding as big a wave as we ever have with this virus,” said Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom. “The vaccine is providing a light at the end of the tunnel but we aren’t there yet and if we relax too much, the math indicates we will see some severe cases. No one wants that for their neighbors. The bottom line is that you are now more than ever probably likely to catch the virus in our community.”

Last weekend’s free public testing clinics drew 968 people, 385 in Gunnison and 583 in Crested Butte, to provide a snapshot of the community. Of that number, initial results are showing that 50 people tested positive. That is a 5.1 positivity rate or just over the 5-percent threshold the county wants to stay below. Overall for the county, there is a 14 percent positivity rate as of this week.

“It is a little more than we want,” admitted Sandstrom. “The previous free clinic drew a lot more people and we ended up with a lower positivity number but that’s because it was held just before the holiday so more people participated. This clinic shows that we are still seeing a lot of cases in the county and the trend is concerning.”

He said that regular testing is showing a high degree of positives but those tests are a bit more biased since they are normally done with people that are showing symptoms or who have been tracked down through contact tracing.

“The good news continues to be that while we have a lot of positive cases, there is no major impact at the hospital,” he said. “We are not seeing really sick people that need transfers or critical care. That’s our bottom line and how our Coronameter works. It is set up to watch for that and as long as we are able to provide care, we can stay in our blue level.”

Sandstrom said Western Colorado University has been doing intensive testing of late and it is showing a positivity rate of about 3 percent with approximately 500 tests given. “We wondered what would happen when the students returned to campus but based on the campus testing, it is looking good,” he said.

The Gunnison Watershed School District is seeing its positive numbers increase a bit as well. The school district has tallied 95 positive cases since the first day of school in August, with 712 negative tests. In Crested Butte, there have been 22 positive cases, 12 of those from the last seven days.

“The numbers have increased along with the community numbers,” said district superintendent Leslie Nichols during the January 11 school board meeting. “This week we anticipated seeing the impacts from the holidays. We are managing well, though.”

Nichols shared that the vaccine rollout for the district is going well, with some staff having already successfully received their second dose of the vaccine. The district also recently received approximately $730,000 from the Colorado Department of Education to spend on COVID related expenses, good through September 2023.

“The hope around the vaccine is fantastic, we continue to feel very supported and enthusiasm from the community about our being open,” she said. “But we’re still managing a very serious spread and a very difficult time in the pandemic. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Vaccines: part time residents, using the second doses, and forms
The vaccine situation is continuing to evolve. While the county has been methodically administering vaccines to people based on their eligibility status and remains a bit ahead of most other Colorado counties, the state is issuing additional mandates. The apparent state goal is to keep the counties in the state at the same basic level. So, while the county was holding 400 doses to be used as the second shot for people next week, the state is ordering county officials to use those doses immediately as first shots.

“They are telling everyone to put those doses into arms immediately,” said Sandstrom. “While we understand that and will follow that order, the concern is that they won’t ship us the needed vaccines for the second doses even though they have assured us they will do that. So this week we will be giving 600 more people their first dose of the vaccine.”

Sandstrom said the state is also making it clear that counties cannot even ask for I.D.s before distributing the vaccine since they are originating through a federal program. This has raised some concern within the community that second homeowners are coming to Gunnison County to get their vaccinations.

“That is true but we feel that is fine,” said Sandstrom. “The fact is whether you are a full-time or part-time resident you are here and can spread the virus. So we are prioritizing people based on their eligibility and not their residence. It is also a two-way street. Most of the rest of the state are using primary healthcare systems like major hospitals to get the vaccines out. So people who live here but say they have been a patient at Anschutz for example might be called to get their vaccine from them. The bottom line is the state wants as many people in the appropriate category to get a vaccine as quickly as possible. It all impacts our outcomes.”

Sandstrom said no one was sure if national vaccine guidance would change under the Biden administration and if for example, those over 65 years of age instead of 70 might be eligible for early vaccinations. He said the county is planning on administering the vaccine to some people between 65 and 70 if they have pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable.

“For us, people filling out the vaccination interest forms online has been very helpful,” said Sandstrom. “It is providing us with a lot of pertinent information and because of that we can pivot tomorrow if we have to thanks to the database.”

The message to stay vigilant was again emphasized. “No one is more tired of this pandemic than me but we all have to stay on top of it,” reiterated Sandstrom. “Once we have the people vaccinated, we can relax. That’s not yet where we are so please stay socially distanced from others and wear a mask. That is helping to keep us in a low restriction level and that is the best we can do at the moment.”

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