Montrose County has seen a total of 4,009 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, as of Thursday July 29, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

The county continues to receive COVID-19 data reports from the state, Montrose County Digital Communications Project Manager Erika Story said.

The county has experienced 70 deaths among COVID cases to date, as well as an additional 70 deaths due to the virus as per the CDPHE. The statistics separate individuals who died from causes outside of their COVID diagnosis and those who died directly from the virus.

Additionally, the CDC reported that the county had 135 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. The level of community transmission is determined by the rate of new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous week and the percent positivity rate of tests.

Montrose County was classified by the CDC as an area with substantial community transmission earlier this week, but has now moved into the highest zone.

Montrose isn’t alone in this spike. Many states in the south and west with lower vaccination rates are also classified as areas with high transmission, while areas in the northeast that have more widespread vaccinations are not.

Some other counties in the Western Slope also sit in the red zone, such as neighboring Mesa County, the first location in Colorado where the Delta variant was detected.

In Mesa County, COVID has been the confirmed cause of 172 deaths, with a total of 18,208 cases as of July 29, according to the daily updated Mesa County COVID-19 data dashboard.

With approximately 30% of the Montrose County population fully vaccinated and a rise in community spread, the area falls under the updated CDC guidelines from earlier this week recommending all individuals regardless of vaccination status wear a mask. Mesa County, at 43% vaccination, is also advised to follow the new guideline.

The Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) issued a recommendation on July 29 urging all individuals in the community regardless of vaccination status to wear masks.

“The Delta variant is still very prevalent,” said Jeff Kuhr, the MCPH executive director. “We don’t get results right away ... but we’ve been consistent in our cases, so I don’t see a drop off of Delta variant cases.”

Kuhr estimated that 90% of Mesa County’s cases are Delta variants, adding that measured data also depends on if the same number of people in a given area were sampled as the last data pull. Although the county’s vaccination rate is below half the population, MCPH predicts that case numbers will begin to drop once herd immunity is established.

Like Montrose, Mesa County has a range of testing sites with organizations such as COVID Check Colorado returning from a summer hiatus.

The county began promoting the use of FDA-approved CUE testing within the past two months as well, a non-invasive outer nasal swab that delivers results to the tester’s phone within 20 minutes. The CUE test, while fast, is different from the rapid test in that it offers diagnostic results instead of screening and therefore can be used for travel requirements.

A study conducted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health concluded that CUE tests deliver a 97.8 % success rate in testing and “will be useful” in rapid test locations. The option provides a more accurate alternative to the popular rapid tests. The PCR test, long considered the gold standard for accurate testing, was determined to have a 97.2 % success rate in testing by the same foundation.

“We plan to use that test with our schools so that we don’t have to wait. Sometimes it can take up to 72 hours to know if somebody was infected. If we have symptomatic individuals in the school system, or at CMU, we’ll be able to test them and know that day whether we’ve got a positive COVID case on our hands and it will allow us to to react much more quickly to mitigate the situation,” Kuhr said.

The county partnered with the CDPHE this year to provide a free vaccine clinic on wheels that traveled around the community to employers, farmers’ markets and events to make the vaccine more accessible to citizens.

“It may be slow, but we’re making progress,” said Kuhr.

Story also encourages everyone to keep an eye out for all symptoms, including mild ones that look like allergies. Many people mistakenly believed they had allergies when they actually had COVID, while infecting those around them.

Kuhr added that if reinfection numbers in Mesa County, which sat at 75 cases as of July 22, begin to spike, the trend would be an indication of how long people are protected once they’ve had COVID.

Studies have shown eight months [protection], but we’re doing our own study,” Kuhr went on. “COVID protection if you’ve had it could be very long and so we’re monitoring reinfections very closely because we take the herd immunity seriously.”

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

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