COVID update August 7

Montrose County's vaccination rate sits below the recommended 70 percent rate. (CDPHE)

Editor's Note: This story has been edited to show the Colorado State Joint Information Center was established to assist the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment instead of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.

Montrose County still sits in the red zone of the CDC and state COVID-19 dial, a status that may come as a surprise to many citizens who see “lower” case numbers reported.

The county continues to receive their COVID-19 data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education (CDPHE), but the data supplied on the state’s data pages aren’t always clear or comprehensive on a county level.

Montrose Memorial Hospital’s Marketing Director Brad Wiersma confirmed on Friday August 6 there were seven COVID positive patients.

“Our hospital census fluctuates throughout the day depending on admissions and discharges. Staffing is adjusted to meet patient care needs,” said MMH Chief Marketing Officer Leann Tobin of hospital capacity.

Tobin initially directed the Montrose Daily Press to the county for information on hospital and case data. The MPD was also referred by Tobin and Montrose County spokesperson Katie Yergensen to the state’s data reporting website when asked about the number of patients with the delta variant and if any deaths were attributed to the alpha or the delta strain.

The CPDHE reports case summary snapshots, testing data, demographics, hospital data, syndromic (real-time monitoring of disease outbreak indicators), and incidence and epidemic curve rates. Additionally, the website provides a closer look at vaccine data on a county snapshot level.

““Cases” is the cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic,” Brian Spencer said of the website’s “cases and deaths by county” column, which records data from the beginning of the pandemic.

Spencer is the Colorado State Joint Information Center’s (JIC) spokesperson. The JIC assists the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment with COVID-19 information distribution and is part of the Office of Emergency Management.

Spencer explained that “deaths among cases” is “epidemiological data that occurred within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.” Deaths among cases aren’t necessarily due to the virus. This data may be reported directly from health care providers and facilities, coroners, contact tracing and other venues of follow-ups, potentially before a cause of death has been determined and a death certificate is registered and finalized, according to the spokesperson.

The “deaths due to COVID-19” column provides records data based on CDC coding of death certificates, Spencer continued.

“The physician, medical examiner or coroner rules COVID-19 as a cause of death on the death certificate, according to guidance from CDC/National Center for Health Statistics on how cause of death certification of a death involving COVID-19 should be completed,” said Spencer.

Montrose County COVID-19 data snapshot

The county now has 28 total sequence-confirmed delta variant cases, according to the JIC spokesperson on Wednesday August 4. The CDPHE uses a “Variant Sentinel Surveillance program” to monitor new cases.

“Our Variant Sentinel Surveillance program does not give us exact, real-time counts of variant cases, but we know from whole genome sequencing of a random sample of positive tests statewide that nearly all new cases in the state right now are a result of the delta variant,” Spencer noted.

There have been 72 deaths due to COVID-19 since March 1, 2020, 16 deaths due to COVID-19 since Mar 1, 2021 and less than three deaths due to COVID-19 since Jul 1, 2021, Spencer confirmed.

Because death certificates don’t collect information on specific strains of COVID-19, the CDPHE is unable to parse out strain-specific deaths due to COVID-19 in this data.

452 COVID-19 cases have been recorded among minors in Montrose County since the beginning of the pandemic and 69 have been recorded since March 1, 2021.

Currently 31,488 doses have been administered in Montrose County, including the 62 given on July 23 and July 24 during the Walmart vaccine clinic that offered citizen’s $100 for their shot.

These numbers place Montrose County at a 48.8 percent first-dose vaccination rate. 45.5 percent are fully vaccinated.

The JIC spokesperson added that one of the state’s mobile vaccine buses will be stopping in Montrose County on August 14.

Why get vaccinated if numbers seem low?

The CDPHE explains that the orange and red zones are reserved for counties with the highest positivity and incidence rates, an area Montrose County still sits in with the rising variant cases.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has produced tragic, negative health outcomes for thousands of individuals and their families across the state and the world since the start of the pandemic,” said Spencer. “In addition, we are still learning about potential long-term effects of contracting COVID-19, even if the patient does not experience negative health outcomes during the course of their active COVID-19 illness.”

Vaccination is regarded as the best protection against COVID-19 and its effects and new studies through the CDC are determining that unvaccinated people previously infected are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than individuals who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus.

The CDC determined that the incoming data indicates that vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity by itself and that vaccines help prevent reinfection.

“If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “This study shows you are twice as likely to get infected again if you are unvaccinated. Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”

Younger individuals are at higher risk of contracting the Delta variant, Spencer said. Because unvaccinated people are more susceptible to contracting the virus, this places children under the age of 12 and ineligible for a vaccine at risk. Spencer noted that there may be increased case counts because of this alone.

“Getting vaccinated, if you are eligible, not only protects yourself, but also your family, communities, and those who aren’t yet eligible to get vaccinated. We all want to get back to the things we love, and getting vaccinated helps us power our comeback,” Spencer said.

Why trust the vaccine?

Because the vaccine was released within a year of the pandemic, many are skeptical about the safety of the vaccine.

Spencer assures citizens that researchers relied on years of previous research in other viruses and vaccines to help inform the vaccine development process for COVID-19.

“All authorized COVID-19 vaccines have gone through intense safety monitoring in U.S. history,” Spencer explained. “The FDA requires that vaccines undergo a rigorous scientific process, including three phases of clinical trials, before they authorize or approve the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccines are subject to the same safety standards as other vaccine trials.”

According to the JIC spokesperson, 97 percent of COVID-19 cases in Colorado since January 1 have originated from unvaccinated people.

While Colorado currently has no plans to instate a mask mandate, the state encourages following recommendations for transmission mitigation in higher risk areas.

Higher risk constitutes communities with a vaccination rate below 70 percent among individuals 12 and under; a school with a vaccination rate under 70 percent among staff and students 12 and older; and a community who’s transmission rate is above 35 cases per 100,000 people over a seven day period. Montrose County meets each criterion under this category.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.