Routt County positivity rate hits highest mark since January |

Routt County positivity rate hits highest mark since January

The Food and Drug Administration gave full approval for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday

The start of 2021 saw Routt County hit its highest positivity rate, excluding the early days of the pandemic when testing was slim, when about 8.9% of tests coming back positive Jan. 24.

Seven months later, the local positivity rate has once again spiked, reaching 8.7% Saturday, the latest day for which data is available.

“It’s not 2019,” said Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith. “I think people have let their guard down. They think we’re back to normal, and that’s not the case.”

Virtually all cases of COVID-19 in Colorado are now the more serious delta variant, according to sequencing done at the state level, with the vast majority of infections happening in people who are not vaccinated. The variant is leading to people getting sicker than with other versions of the virus, and it is affecting a broader variety of people.

“We are seeing very sick, demographically different patients than we were in the last spike,” said Dr. Richard Zane, chief innovation officer and chief of emergency services for UCHealth. “We are seeing people without comorbidities — it’s a far more contagious variant by 1,000 times.”

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Zane said it is almost like two different diseases at this point. Among vaccinated people, symptoms are mild or nonexistent, where as those who are unvaccinated are oftentimes some of the sickest patients they have ever seen, Zane said.

There have been 66 new cases of COVID-19 locally in the past seven days, according to Routt County’s dashboard, and Smith said much of the transmission is due to people not taking precautions that have become staples throughout the pandemic.

“When we’ve seen outbreaks here locally in our community, it’s because people went to work sick, and they’ve infected others,” Smith said. “That is unacceptable that we still have that going on.”

Smith said parents need to be watching for this as they send their children back to school to help prevent cases there, as well.

While children still generally don’t get as sick, Zane said cases in young people have the ability to spread the virus readily. If the first iteration of COVID-19 was a child’s glue stick, the delta variant is the equivalent of Gorilla glue, Zane said.

“(Children) are getting sick; they are getting admitted into the hospital,” Zane said. “Not in numbers that are high, not in proportionality that is higher than it was during the last wave, but the infectious factor in children with the delta variant is really quite something.”

Health officials continue to point to vaccines as the solution, a message that could be aided by the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Monday, months after it received emergency use authorization. Zane said the piece of information federal officials were waiting for was how long the vaccine is expected to provide protection. Zane said this appears to be between six and 10 months before a booster is recommended.

Zane said he thinks the news will have two effects. First, it may inspire some people tepid about the vaccine to roll up their sleeves. But the larger impact it could have for Zane is in the form of vaccine mandates from employers.

“I don’t think people are going to get forced to get the vaccine. They’re going to have to choose between being employed and getting the vaccine,” Zane said. “It’s really a societal obligation and an act of patriotism to get vaccinated. … If you choose not to get vaccinated, you’re making a selfish decision that history will view you poorly for.”

Vaccines are widely available in Routt County from most medical providers and pharmacies. The state’s vaccine bus will also make several local stops at school open houses in Steamboat Springs this week and next.

Jesse Herrgott, public health nurse educator for Routt County, said the county’s strategy to get people to get vaccinated doesn’t change much now that Pfizer is approved, but he hopes it will convince some of the reluctant to get their shot.

Testing availability has also increased in the county, with the Routt County Public Health Department starting to do its own testing again twice per week. Other local testing sites are also seeing an increase in traffic.

“People talk a lot about individual choice, but the reason you get vaccinated is not because of yourself. It’s also because of other people around you,” Zane said. “To not get vaccinated is an unpatriotic act.”

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