COVID-19 cases on the rise in Routt County; experts say most spread is among unvaccinated |

COVID-19 cases on the rise in Routt County; experts say most spread is among unvaccinated

Routt County recorded 70 positive COVID-19 cases during a two-week period from June 29 to July 12, with 45 of those cases counted from July 6 to July 12. The county also saw two hospitalizations in the two-week period.

“We need people to be vaccinated,” said Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton. “The more spread there is, the more we have a possibility of seeing breakthrough cases, especially for folks who are immunocompromised.”

Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist, said the county is still working to determine how many COVID-19 cases involved vaccinated versus unvaccinated community members, but Harty said she feels confident in saying 80% to 90% of cases in the past four weeks are coming from unvaccinated people.

“Because our cases increased so quickly, we don’t have all of the information from our case investigations,” Harty said.

Harty said the county is still working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to pinpoint how many of the local cases are the delta variant of the virus, which is much more contagious than the original version.

While breakthrough cases — cases where people who have fully completed their vaccine series still catch the virus — are rare, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said such cases are much more likely to involve mild infections and symptoms, and not lead to hospitalization or death.

“Even if we do have cases that test positive, and they’ve been vaccinated, these are not the people in the hospital, and these are not the people that are dying of COVID in our community,” Smith said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 62% of Routt County residents have received either both shots of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is considered completing the vaccine series.

Melton said while 62% is still a number to be proud of, it is not high enough, particularly as the delta variant is on the rise across Colorado.

“My sense is that there is a significant portion of the population who just, for whatever reason, haven’t made getting vaccinated a priority,” Melton said.

Much of the issue, Melton said, is a lack of access to vaccines. While vaccines are available in most Routt County pharmacies, Melton said many people may not have time to visit a pharmacy or may not see a reason to get vaccinated, especially if they are young people with no comorbidities.

“There is some percentage of the population that will never choose to be vaccinated, but I don’t think that’s everyone,” Melton said.

Melton said she encourages employers to be part of the solution, either by holding vaccination clinics at their place of work or encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

Though cases are on the increase, Harty and Melton said they would be reluctant to implement COVID-19 restrictions again, as the vaccine is effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths, which is what protocols, such as mask mandates, aimed to prevent. Harty said restrictions would likely only return if the vaccine became ineffective over time and hospitalizations rose.

“What would certainly cause me to pause and think hard about would be if we start seeing substantial vaccine breakthrough that leads to substantial hospitalizations and deaths,” Harty said.

Harty said vaccinated people may do indoor activities without a mask but should quarantine and take a test if they are experiencing symptoms.

“We are still in a pandemic,” Harty said. “There is still a risk, but it is substantially lower if you are vaccinated.”

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