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Delta variant cases continue to rise in Montezuma County

Southwest Memorial Hospital is offering COVID-19 vaccines for free.
Vaccines available at Southwest Memorial Hospital

Montezuma County continues to see a rise in delta variant cases of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Aug. 18, there were 147 active cases of the highly contagious strain, up from 133 Aug. 11, a 10% increase. There were 118 cases Aug. 4.

The level of community transmission in the county is rated as “high” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During a Facebook presentation last week, officials with Southwest Health System, which operates Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, explained the delta variant and the ongoing pandemic.

Approximately 98% of new cases of COVID-19 are the more contagious delta variant, based on state and federal studies, said SHS lab director Allan Laird.

It is 50% more transmissible than the original alpha strain, he said. The rate of infection for the alpha strain was two to three people to every person with the virus. The delta variant transmission rate is six to eight people from one person infected.

A vaccination is the best tool to slow its spread, Laird said.

“It helps prevent severe illness and hospitalizations very well,” he said.

SHS clinics continue to see patients with COVID-related symptoms, including children, said Kerri White-Singleton, SHS chief operating officer.

“It is extremely infectious,” she said. Recent COVID-19 testing by SHS has shown over a 10% positivity rate.

Data also shows delta variant symptoms are being found in children more than the earlier strain.

Nationwide, COVID cases in children are up by 80%, said Marc Meyer, SHS director of pharmacy and infection prevention. The delta variant is affecting older people less because they were targeted early for the vaccine.

The increase in delta cases overall is happening most in areas with lower rates of vaccination, he said.

The resumption of school classes also is a concern, Meyer added, and could lead to outbreaks and quarantines.

The local school districts do not have mask mandates, and vaccines are not approved to be administered to children under age 12.

Meyer said continuing to wearing masks indoors, in crowded areas, and in areas of low vaccination will help reduce the spread and protect people from the new variant.

Another issue is studies that show children infected with the delta variant are developing cardiac inflammation, he said. Health professionals should be on the lookout for the condition during student physicals.

Health officials said the delta variant symptoms are less severe than the original COVID-19, but its increased infection rate is problematic and people are still getting very ill and dying from it.

“Don’t get the impression it is not serious,” Meyer said. “Even if vaccinated could still get COVID. Wear a mask when in group settings, at a concert, family reunions or traveling.”

The vaccination rate in Montezuma County has increased. So far, 65.6% of the population eligible have received at least one dose.

The hospital pharmacy is administering about 100 vaccinations per week. Walk-ins are welcome. The clinic offers Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines for free.

Officials said getting vaccinated does not prevent virus infection but reduces severity of illness if infected, and helps reduce transmission.

Health officials recommend that pregnant women get the COVID-19 vaccine,. The vaccine can be done at any stage of the pregnancy, and antibodies from the vaccine are transferred to the baby. Pregnant women with COVID have had difficult deliveries, and face increased chance for low birth weight babies.

COVID-19 vaccines for SHS employees are highly recommended but are not mandated at this time, said acting CEO Jeanette Filpi. Mask wearing for hospital employees and visitors is required.