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COVID spreads in Montezuma County; officials wait for state guidance

Increasing the vaccination rate will reduce the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19. (File photo)
Rate of infection triggers Centers for Disease Control to recommend masks be worn indoors

A relatively low vaccination rate and the number of new COVID-19 infections have put Montezuma County under a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear masks indoors.

Based on the week of July 19-25, the county had a rate of 84.1 new cases per 100,000 people, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The CDC considers counties that have more than 50 new cases per 100,000 within a week o have substantial or high levels of community transmission, and residents should wear masks indoors.

Montezuma County is rated at a “substantial” level of community transmission, according to the CDC. The categories are rated low, moderate, substantial or high.

San Juan Basin Public Health updated its recommendation for La Plata and Archuleta counties Thursday to match the CDC recommendation. The local health department has not issued an order requiring masks be worn.

“With the delta variant spreading in our community, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated right away to protect yourself and your family from serious illness,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “Until the level of infection in our community drops, we urge you to follow public health advisories whether you are vaccinated or not. This includes wearing a mask in businesses and maintaining 6 feet of distancing between households.”

The more contagious delta variant has led to infection spikes across the country, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.

“To maximize protection from the delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission,” states the CDC website. The recommendation applies to people vaccinated as well as those who are not.

As of July 28, in Montezuma County 52% of those eligible had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to CDPHE.

Between July 14 and July 28, 44 new cases were confirmed in the county, according to the Montezuma County Health Department.

As of July 28, there were 99 active cases, down from 129 cases July 21.

Southwest Memorial Hospital continues to treat COVID-19 patients every week, said Marc Meyer, infection control director for Southwest Health Systems, on Friday.

Since May, the hospital has tested 100 to 200 people per week, and the positivity rate has stayed at 10% or higher, Meyer said.

COVID patients who require advanced care are flown to other hospitals.

As of Thursday, La Plata County had 4,306 total COVID-19 cases, with about 285 occurring in the past two months. Of those, 145 have been reported in July. Archuleta County had 1,146 total cases, of which 162 were reported during the past two months and 104 have been reported in July.

Nationwide, 95% of new symptomatic cases are from unvaccinated people, Meyer said. Of the new cases in the United States, 90% are have been attributed to the delta variant.

“The problem with the delta variant is that it is more infectious,” he said. “Right now, the county vaccine rate is relatively low to stop disease progression.”

Laurel Schafer, assistant director of the Montezuma County Health Department, said Friday that staff are aware of the recent CDC recommendations, but are awaiting for guidance from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

“The health department continues to encourage use of the best tool available — the COVID vaccine, and we are offering several opportunities to get your vaccine,” Schafer said.

A vaccination clinic is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Cortez Recreation Center, 425 Roger Smith Ave. Walk-ups are accepted.

COVID-19 vaccinations also are available by calling 970-565-3056. The county Health Department provides the vaccines every Tuesday and Wednesday.

Shannon Mullane of The Durango Herald contributed to this article.