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COVID-19 outbreak at Mercy Regional Medical Center increases to 23 staff members

Most infections involve people who have been vaccinated
A COVID-19 outbreak at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango has infected 23 staff members as of Friday, according to San Juan Basin Public Health. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A COVID-19 outbreak at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango has grown to 23 people, one of the largest outbreaks involving staff members in the region since the start of the pandemic, according to data maintained by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The first case was identified July 28, and the most recent case was reported Friday, according to San Juan Basin Public Health. All 23 cases involve staff members.

The outbreak involves 15 people who were fully vaccinated, five who were unvaccinated, one who was partially vaccinated and two with an unknown vaccination status, said Chandler Griffin, spokesman with the health department.

No staff members had been hospitalized or died from their infections as of Friday, he said.

The delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading locally and is believed to be the dominant strain in the region, he said.

“With the delta variant, we’ve typically been seeing outbreaks where most cases are unvaccinated or a mix of vaccinated statuses like this outbreak at Mercy,” Griffin said. “It just goes to show how transmissible delta is. It has relative ease in infecting unvaccinated people. ... Because the vaccines are not 100% effective or guaranteed to keep you from getting COVID, it can result in outbreaks where there’s a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, like in this instance.”

The health department is unable to say whether the outbreak began with unvaccinated staff members. People get tested at different intervals, with some waiting longer than others to be tested, Griffin said. That means the first confirmed case may not be where the outbreak originated, he said.

“The epidemiological chronology is complicated for that reason and a number of other factors,” he said.

The outbreak is a reminder for community members to take extra precautions, including following public health advisories such as wearing masks in public regardless of vaccination status, and to get vaccinated, Griffin said.

“While we do see some documented breakthrough cases, the data does support that these vaccinations are extremely effective at preventing hospitalization and death if you are vaccinated and you get it,” he said.

Mercy suspended all non-emergent procedures for about a week in mid-August when the outbreak had infected 12 staff members.

Centura Health, the health care system that runs Mercy, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

shane@durangoherald.com

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