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New COVID-19 surge arrives sooner than expected in La Plata County

San Juan Basin Public Health recommends return to masks
Olivia Cates, a tester, with COVIDCheck Colorado, performs a COVID-19 nasal swab PCR test on an individual Nov. 24, 2021, at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Transmission rates of COVID-19 in Archuleta and La Plata counties and across the state are rising faster than expected, according to San Juan Basin Public Health officials.

Chandler Griffin, spokesman for SJBPH, said many public health experts expected case rates to surge in fall, when weather is cooler and people are more prone to spend time indoors. But high transmission is occurring now.

“Hospitalizations are currently much lower across the state and in our region than they were during the omicron surge,” he said. “This is the good news.”

Griffin credited the relatively low hospitalization numbers to vaccinations and booster shots. He said the notion that vaccines don’t work against COVID-19 is a misconception. Vaccines limit cases of severe illnesses and death.

“We’re experiencing this surge in cases, but the vaccines and the boosters are still highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and death,” he said. “... They are doing their job at preventing hospitalizations.”

But high levels of transmission could overburden health care centers and disrupt essential services.

Thursday, incidence rates rose to 245 cases per 100,000 residents in La Plata County and 135 per 100,000 residents in Archuleta County, according to a news release Friday. Combined, the two counties had a new hospitalization rate of 11 per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

Wastewater samples collected in Durango and Pagosa Springs on June 2 show the highest levels of COVID-19 since sample collections began earlier this year, the news release said.

The strains of COVID-19 in Archuleta and La Plata counties are a mix of omicron sub-variants, Griffin said. And just like omicron, the variants are highly transmissible.

“(Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) and SJBPH are monitoring data from the Northeast states because they started their recent surge before Colorado did,” said Tiffany Switzer, deputy director of SJBPH. “Their cases have started leveling off and declining, so there is cautious optimism Colorado is catching up to their improving trend. For this to happen as soon as possible, we are advising precautions like masking, vaccinations and testing.”

Switzer said now that COVID-19 has entered people’s lives, it always will be present to some extent.

I think that now we have COVID-19 in our lives, we’re always going to see ups and downs with COVID transmission,” she said.

The health department issued new guidance Friday urging mask use in indoor public spaces in La Plata County in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“Archuleta County is in Level Medium, so we’re advising masking for individuals who are at high risk for severe illness,” Griffin said. “They can consult with their doctor about that if they need to make sure they’re up to date on vaccinations or a booster.”

Griffin said staying home when sick is the most important thing anyone can do to prevent spread of the virus.

“When essential services or businesses have a lot of people out sick, it can disrupt their operations,” he said. “For precautions, masking, testing and vaccinations: These are the things that will help prevent outbreaks and the worst outcomes from COVID.”

He said anyone who is eligible for a booster should get one right away.

Free community test sites remain open to the public, Griffin said. Free rapid tests and masks also are available in SJBPH’s offices in Durango and Pagosa Springs.


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