COVID cases balloon to early April levels as Routt County sees ‘pandemic of unvaccinated’
More than 15% of local cases in last 2 weeks were in children 9 and younger
Cases of COVID-19 have returned to levels not seen since the beginning of April, and positivity rates are at levels not seen since previous surges of the virus locally in February.
In June, 87.5% of people 12 and older who tested positive for COVID-19 were not vaccinated, according to Routt County Public Health.
“As is true throughout the U.S., right now, Routt County is seeing a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said county epidemiologist Nicole Harty.
There have been 77 new cases of the virus in the past two weeks, which puts the county in the caution metrics used on its Road to Recovery framework devised this spring. Positivity rate has surpassed 5% again, and health officials estimate about 70% of current local cases involve the more-infectious delta variant.
There has not been a local public health order in place since May, and the Board of Routt County Commissioners did not discuss adding any back Monday. Still, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith stressed that unvaccinated people should still be wearing a mask indoors.
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“Unvaccinated people need to continue wearing masks when indoors, and that includes children age 2 and above,” said Smith, referencing the current masking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For Routt County, this means that between 30% and 40% of people in indoor public spaces should still wear a mask, Smith said.
While Routt County remains one of the leading counties in the state in terms of vaccination, Smith said rates have been relatively stagnant since June. Parts of the county where rates are lowest are where many of the new cases are coming from.
For example, in West Routt, the vaccination rate is about 34%, or a little over half the county’s rate as a whole. In the past two weeks, case incidence in West Routt has been 1.5 times higher than the rest of the county, Harty said.
Community spread is the largest source of cases of the virus in the past two weeks, which means public health officials were unable to clearly identify the source of a case. While there are instances of unvaccinated people being infected at large gatherings, Harty said the recent spike is not due to holiday events like the Fourth of July Parade.
“Our recent increase in cases can be attributed to the more transmissible delta variant and relaxing the mitigation measures among unvaccinated community members,” Harty said.
Harty said many of the recent cases involve people who attended smaller gatherings or stayed with someone for a few days where there is a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Cases in children specifically are increasing, Harty said, especially among those who are not yet eligible for the shots. More than 15% of cases in the past two weeks involved a child 9 years old or younger.
Less than a quarter of children, age 10 to 14, are vaccinated. Harty said they would expect that number to be closer to 50%. Children 12 and older are only approved to get the Pfizer vaccine.
Though the CDC does recommend mask wearing for all unvaccinated people over the age of 2, some local child care providers are not requiring masks for children, Smith said.
“Children should be masked indoors, and in the absence of our public health order, when we’ve relied on guidelines, I don’t think that is happening,” Smith said.
Smith said she expects updated guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment later this week about returning to school, and she plans to discuss that with local districts next week.
The recent increase in positivity rate also has Harty wanting more people to get tested for the virus, even if they think their symptoms could be attributed to allergies or wildfire smoke.
“Please don’t dismiss your symptoms of COVID,” Harty said. “Particularly if you’re not vaccinated, COVID could be a very likely reason.”
Brooke Maxwell, county public health nurse, said she has been working with local providers to assess how many more tests they could do, and they’re also trying to tap into additional testing resources from the state.
There have been a handful of breakthrough cases in the county, meaning a case of the virus in someone who is fully vaccinated and had not tested positive for the virus in the past 45 days. About 12.5% of cases in June involved someone who was vaccinated.
Still, officials say breakthrough cases are to be expected, as none of the vaccines are 100% effective, and the low number shows how effective vaccines are at preventing the virus.
“The percentage of people who are vaccinated is much higher than the percentage of cases among people who are vaccinated,” epidemiologist Fritha Morrison said. “This shows that vaccines are helping to prevent cases in people who are vaccinated.”
Smith commended Casey’s Pond for mandating the vaccine among employees last week and encouraged more employers to do to the same. Maxwell said the health department wants to work with employers, like Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., to ensure employees have the opportunity to be vaccinated.
“We certainly can help them out in terms of some of the barriers they think they might have in terms of implementing such a program,” Smith said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Routt County’s COVID-19 incidence rate is increasing exponentially and is now among the top three in Colorado behind only Moffat and Kit Carson counties.