CDC says everyone in Routt County should wear a mask — vaccinated or not
Federal health officials said Tuesday evidence suggests vaccinated people with a breakthrough case involving delta variant can spread virus to others
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the percentage of staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center that are vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone — regardless of vaccination status — wear a mask in indoor, public spaces in Routt County.
Routt County has a transmission rate that would lead federal officials to classify it as an area of high transmission, especially because of the delta variant, which is now responsible for about 95% of new cases in Colorado.
High transmission means there are at least 50 cases of the virus per 100,000 people over the previous seven days, which translates to roughly 13 cases per week in Routt County. The most recent week saw 25 new cases, according to the Routt County Public Health Department.
The heightened guidance — reversing a decision from two months ago — comes as many are ready for the pandemic to end, but a highly infectious variant and stalled vaccine uptake have led to sharp increases in cases at the local, state and national levels.
Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said it really depends on someone’s situation as to whether they should be wearing a mask inside in Routt County.
“If I am indoors, and I know all my friends are vaccinated … that’s a good situation,” Smith said. “You might want to reconsider if you want to wear a mask or not if you’re at an indoor concert venue.
“Understanding your risk is something that everyone should be doing because the pandemic is not over,” Smith added.
The guidance also has added to a national conversation about requiring vaccines for workers, and President Joe Biden is expected to announce federal employees will need to be vaccinated or face stringent testing requirements on Thursday, according to The New York Times.
Earlier this month, Casey’s Pond mandated the vaccine for all of its employees, and on Wednesday, UCHealth said it would require all of its roughly 26,000 employees across the state be vaccinated.
“I think certainly as a health care entity, it’s our obligation to set that standard,” said Michelle Barron, UCHealth senior director of infection prevention and control. “I think it is a great example for the community to show as a business and an entity that you want to make sure that everybody stays healthy.”
Across the system, UCHealth says about 85% of staff are vaccinated. Dr. Laura Sehnert, chief medical officer at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, said while she thought the percentage of the nearly 600 staffers locally that are vaccinated mirrored pretty closely with that, it is important to ensure the local hospital offers the safest environment for hospital patients and staff.
“I would encourage everyone to get the vaccine regardless of your place of employment,” Sehnert said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important the vaccine is. Collectively, the more people who are vaccinated, the better off we all are.”
Routt County is requiring all unvaccinated employees to wear a mask while indoors on county property, according to a directive issued by County Manager Mark Collins last Friday, but it has not gone so far as to require the vaccine for staff.
“We have not discussed that,” said Routt County Board of Commissioners Chair Tim Corrigan about a county employee vaccine mandate. “That is not something, given our current state of disease spread in the community, that I would look upon favorably.”
Corrigan said he would consider such a mandate if it was strongly recommended by the public health department, but that disease spread would likely need to be worse than it is now.
Smith said she was waiting for guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about whether government entities should require the vaccine or not. Smith said she would recommend local private employers think about requiring the vaccine for their staff.
When asking other public health departments across the state how they have higher vaccination rates, Smith said a common answer is that they got the business community involved.
“Having employers emphasize the need for vaccinations is a tool that we can use as a community to help bolster these rates,” Smith said.
Vaccinated staff exposed to COVID-19 are not required to quarantine, which Smith said could save businesses time and keep that staff member working during a time when staff can be hard to recruit.
The state of Colorado is offering people who get vaccinated at certain sites a $100 Walmart gift card. The state’s vaccine bus will be back in Routt County from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center with gift cards until supplies last.
In addition to offering the vaccine through practitioners and in the emergency department, the hospital is holding vaccine clinics each Wednesday morning in August.
Smith said there have been isolated cases of people trying to get another COVID-19 vaccine shot, even when they have already completed the vaccine series. The handful of these instances has providers double checking vaccination data prior to giving any doses.
“This is not recommended by the CDC. This is not (Food and Drug Administration) approved,” Smith said. “We’ve got ends of the spectrum where we don’t have people getting vaccinated, and then there’s some people that are seeking bonus vaccines.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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The pandemic is wearing on a lot of people, especially frontline health care workers like Whittany Keating, a registered nurse at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.