San Juan Basin Public Health on Thursday urged residents to continue mask use regardless of vaccination status as the delta variant of the coronavirus became the dominant strain spreading in September.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified La Plata and Archuleta counties as high COVID-19 transmission areas, especially for the delta variant, SJBPH said in a news release Thursday. The CDC finding prompted the health department’s third amendment of its COVID-19 guidelines during 2021.
Almost all September cases of COVID-19 consisted of the delta variant, which the CDC warns has transmission rates comparable to the original SARS-CoV-2 virus before vaccinations were widely available.
The health department reported 582 cases in September and 148 cases during the first week of October in La Plata County. For Archuleta County, it reported 111 cases in September and 20 cases during the first week of October.
“The public should be aware that we have high rates of COVID-19 at this time,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of the health department. “There is significant risk right now in letting your guard down on mask wearing or being unvaccinated.”
She emphasized the importance of wearing masks indoors as more people interact inside during colder weather.
“The best way to reduce your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19 is to layer your protection,” Jollon said. “Get vaccinated for COVID-19. Get a booster dose if you are eligible. Don’t forget to wear a mask in public indoor settings whether you are vaccinated or not.”
The delta variant is associated with nearly all current cases in La Plata and Archuleta counties, SJBPH said, and is responsible for “breakthrough” cases among vaccinated patients. Patients, including young people, might be more likely to become ill with the delta variant than with other strains.
“Those who are fully vaccinated and who get infected with COVID-19 are likely to be asymptomatic or have less severe illness,” SJBPH said. “The vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death.”
Children ages 12 to 17 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses and takes about five weeks from the first shot before full immunity is present. The health department said it is keeping close watch on state and federal guidance that would allow children younger than 12 to receive vaccinations.
“Timelines may change, but SJBPH is anticipating that 5- to 11-year-olds may be eligible by late October or sometime in November,” the release said.
SJBPH and Jogan Health are offering clinics every day for vaccinations and booster shots. Walk-in appointments are accepted, but scheduled meetings are preferred. Vaccines are free, and IDs are not required.
Durango School District 9-R reported in a news release Tuesday that the district had 48 positive COVID-19 cases for the school year through September. The school district has 4,200 students and 800 staff members across 12 campuses, said spokeswoman Julie Popp.
Most of the cases were low-risk exposures and did not affect other staff members or students, according to the school district.
“A low-risk exposure indicates that the individuals exposed were all following mitigation measures, including social distancing and masking, and were not participating in a high risk activity, in order to avoid the quarantine,” the release said.
High-risk activities include sports and music events. As of Tuesday, the school district had not experienced an outbreak or group quarantine.
On Sept. 10, the school district received updated COVID-19 guidance from the CDC. The guidance recommended mask use for all students and staff members regardless of vaccination status, urged increased ventilation and air filtration, and provided more specific guidance about when quarantine is appropriate based on mask use and social distancing.
Sixty-seven percent of students in Durango High School are currently vaccinated, and 68% of students at Big Picture High School were vaccinated as of Tuesday.