Health officials stress need for vaccination as people across the West respond to fight Muddy Slide Fire |

Health officials stress need for vaccination as people across the West respond to fight Muddy Slide Fire

While Routt County has high vaccination rate, just 38% of residents are fully vaccinated in South Routt

As people from across the West flow into Routt County to fight the Muddy Slide Fire, public health officials are stressing that unvaccinated people should still be wearing masks, especially as the delta variant becomes the dominant strain of the virus in Colorado.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were in Mesa County on Tuesday to investigate outbreaks stemming from the variant that was first seen in India in December. The variant has led to roughly double the hospitalizations of the alpha variant (B.1.1.7, UK), which is the most common strain in the United States right now.

There has been one case of the delta variant found in Routt County, but 18 of them reported in Moffat County to the west, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. Mesa County, the most populous on the Western Slope, has seen 288 cases of the variant.

The variant’s spread is especially concerning to the Routt County Public Health because, while 60% of all county residents are vaccinated, that percentage is not constant throughout the county. In South Routt County, where the fire is burning and an evacuation center has been set up at Soroco Middle School, just 38% of residents are vaccinated.

So far, evacuations have only affected a handful of residents, but if the fire forced broader swaths of people to flee, officials are concerned that a combination of the highly transmissible variant, low vaccination rates and close quarters in a shelter could lead to an outbreak.

“If they are living in areas that could potentially be evacuated, they (should be) thinking ahead about how they can protect themselves against COVID spread,” Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said.

Smith said public health has started to work through the logistics of getting more testing to the area if needed.

The best protection against the variant and the virus as a whole is getting vaccinated, Smith said, echoing the message she, state health officials and politicians have been pushing in recent weeks as rates of new vaccination have slowed.

Routt County ranks in the top 10 in the state in vaccination rate, but while 64% of Steamboat Springs residents are fully vaccinated, just 33% of West Routt residents have completed the vaccine series. For North Routt County, that number is 54%

The fire has also brought firefighters and other officials to manage the Muddy Slide Fire from all over the West, which could also contribute to the spread of the virus. First responders were one of the first groups of people eligible for the vaccine, and Smith said there was strong uptake among first responders in the county.

In the beginning of May, the delta variant made up a fraction of Colorado’s COVID-19 cases, but it has quickly become the dominant strain in the state, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the countries top infections disease expert, said Tuesday that this variant is the “greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19.”

Routt County’s case counts have declined since the county lifted the local mask mandate last month, with just seven cases reported in the past week. Nicole Harty, Routt County’s epidemiologist, said Monday the lower level of cases has allowed for more extensive contact tracing.

Vaccines are widely available in the county, with 13 different providers locally offering vaccines. The state’s vaccination bus will be back in Steamboat the first week of July, with those who get a vaccine from the bus July 3 getting a free bleachers ticket to the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series. The bus will be at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on July 4.

“The higher our levels of vaccination, the less we have to worry about variants taking hold and overwhelming out health care systems,” Smith said.

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