‘Not there yet’: COVID-19 still a crisis in Routt County as positivity rate nears 10% | SteamboatToday.com

‘Not there yet’: COVID-19 still a crisis in Routt County as positivity rate nears 10%

COVID-19 will eventually reach a point where it is manageable for society, similar to how the influenza virus is dealt with each year. But, as officials say, “We’re not there yet.”

“We have too much of the disease. We have too many people getting seriously ill and dying from it,” Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington said. “We’re still in pandemic crisis mode, so to speak.”

Routt County’s COVID-19 positivity rate is now higher than it has been since the early days of the pandemic, rising to near 10% in the latest data update Monday night. The roughly 150 cases seen in the past two weeks is the highest mark since coming down from when cases spiked in the first months of 2021.

While those who have been vaccinated for months try to count the days until reaching some degree of local herd immunity, health officials say the days when COVID-19 is managed and not a crisis are likely not until everyone can get vaccinated.

“I think that is going to be a game changer,” Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said. “I think when we can have all of our age groups eligible for vaccination, it’s going to be very similar to what we see with other vaccine preventable diseases.”

The severe cases of the virus are mainly isolated to people who are not vaccinated, Smith said. About 30% of cases in August were people who were vaccinated, but these cases are generally mild, Harrington said.

“We haven’t had anybody in the hospital who is vaccinated,” Harrington said. “It is certainly frustrating for those of us in health care, those of us working in the hospital, to see these preventable cases of serious disease.”

Hospital capacity across the state is becoming increasingly strained, though there is still access in all parts of Colorado. In early August, about 18% of the state’s intensive care beds were available. A month later that number has decreased to 13%, even as the total number of beds has increased.

Harrington said locally there is a steady stream of one to two hospitalizations each week, which does not threaten the local capacity. Still, the impact of less access across the state is being felt locally.

“We have had some instances of challenges in transferring patients to higher levels of care who needed something outside of our local area,” Harrington said. “We have ultimately got people where they needed to get the care they need, but sometimes, it’s been a delay because we can’t find a bed.”

There has also been an increase in the child respiratory illness Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Harrington said, which is stressing pediatric ICU availability.

Smith said she believes hospitalization rates and the availability of ICU beds will be the new barometer to gauge the pandemic now that vaccines are widely available.

Since school started about two weeks ago, Smith said there have been cases in several of the county’s schools but no evidence of transmission in any classroom. Though there have been cases related to school sports, Smith said.

Part of the problem has been students being sent to school sick, Smith said.

“I feel like a broken record, but we are seeing people go to work sick. We’re seeing kids go to school sick,” Smith said. “This cannot happen in this day and age.”

Because of the high incidence and positivity rate locally, Nicole Harty, Routt County epidemiologist, suggested anyone who gathered in a large group over the holiday weekend get tested, even if vaccinated. If showing any symptoms of congestion, headache, fever, sore throat, body aches or nausea, Harty said people should take a COVID-19 test.

“Please get tested and assume it is COVID until proven otherwise,” Harty said. “This is for any symptom.”

The high local positivity rate is a sign that more people should be getting tested, Harty said. She also said people who test positive should be identifying any close contacts they had, as well.

Vaccination rates in Routt County continue to slowly climb, and there are now about 81% of residents who have received the first dose of the vaccine. Harrington said Routt County might be somewhat insulated to how serious the virus has gotten nationally.

“It’s amazing, the degree of death and suffering that they are dealing with,” Harrington said about fellow doctors in states like Florida. “They’re overwhelmed with cases, and it’s a sad and frankly unnecessary situation that could have been prevented.”

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