COVID-19 cases are ramping up in La Plata and Archuleta counties nearing the holiday season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elevated both counties to community level “high” last week.
La Plata County had a case incidence rate of 142.3 per 100,000 residents and Archuleta County had an incidence rate of 178.2 per 100,000 over a seven-day period last week. The counties, which are part of the same regional health service area, also had 22.9 new hospital admissions per 100,000 last week.
San Juan Basin Public Health Executive Director Liane Jollon said increased case numbers could be a result of multiple factors.
“The way that the CDC is determining community levels is based on both transmission rates and new hospitalizations,” she said. “Because we’re in a region that simply has less access to health care and hospital beds, we have the potential to move into a high level quicker than other regions.”
Predicting a surge of COVID-19 cases can be difficult for health care professionals because of emerging variants, but based on what Jollon has seen over the last three years, there appears to be a correlation between the winter season and elevated cases.
She said respiratory illnesses tend to increase during the winter months and because COVID-19 is transmitted similarly through the air and saliva droplets, it could have a similar seasonal trend.
These seasonal increases can be a result of people spending more time inside, large family gatherings for holidays and colder weather.
“COVID waves are also driven by the emergence of new variants that are more contagious than prior strains that were floating around the community,” she said.
Jollon advises people with symptoms to test using at-home tests or by doing on-site testing. She said at-home tests are accurate but there can be a delay from first COVID-19 exposure and a positive test. Free testing is also available at the La Plata County Fairgrounds through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“It is not uncommon to be symptomatic for three, four, maybe even five days before your at-home test turns positive,” she said.
Free at-home tests can be found at SJBPH locations in Durango and Pagosa Springs.
Jollon said it is especially important for people who are in a high-risk group to test when symptomatic because those patients can receive antiviral medication as soon as they test positive.
Those who qualify as high-risk are people who are 65 years or older, people who are obese or overweight, pregnant people, and people who have certain existing health conditions like cancer or chronic kidney disease.
When a community is ranked as “high” risk, the CDC recommends individual prevention steps such as:
- Wear a high-quality mask or respirator.
- If you are at high risk of getting very sick, consider avoiding nonessential indoor activities in public where you could be exposed.
- If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk for getting very sick, consider self-testing to detect infection before contact, and consider wearing a high-quality mask when indoors with that person.
The public health agency says the best way to prevent severe illness is to get vaccinated. A list of local providers administering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters is available on SJBPH’s website.
People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised or cannot get vaccinated against COVID-19 may get a monoclonal antibody treatment called Evusheld. It can help prevent getting sick with COVID-19. However, it is not for people who already have the virus or have recently been exposed.
KN95 masks are also available for free at SJBPH front desks in Durango and Pagosa Springs. Jollon said KN95 masks provide better protection against the virus compared to surgical and cloth masks.
She said people traveling for the holiday season should get the most recent booster shot and should consider wearing masks while shopping.
“If you’re traveling by air or by bus, we really recommend using a mask in those crowded places and if possible, don't travel if you're symptomatic,” she said.