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San Juan Basin Public Health recommends masks as COVID-19 variant spreads

Fast-spreading delta variant prompts new guidance
Masks are recommended for everyone ages 2 and older regardless of their vaccination status. (Durango Herald file)

The recommendation to wear masks – for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people – has returned to the forefront in Archuleta and La Plata counties.

San Juan Basin Public Health updated its recommendation for the two counties Thursday to match the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The local health department has not issued an order requiring masks be worn.

The CDC recommended that people mask up in public, indoor places – regardless of their vaccination status – in an announcement this week. The agency shifted its guidance based on the rapid spread of a coronavirus variant, dubbed the delta variant.

“With the delta variant spreading in our community, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated right away to protect yourself and your family from serious illness,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “Until the level of infection in our community drops, we urge you to follow public health advisories whether you are vaccinated or not. This includes wearing a mask in businesses and maintaining 6 feet of distancing between households.”

The CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks if they are in an area of “substantial” or “high” transmission, which are defined by the number of cases per 100,000 people. The CDC identifies La Plata County has having “substantial” COVID-19 transmission, and Archuleta County with “high” transmission as of Thursday, according to an SJBPH news release.

As of Thursday, La Plata County had 4,306 total COVID-19 cases, with about 285 occurring in the past two months. Of those, 145 have been reported in July. Archuleta County had 1,146 total cases, of which 162 were reported during the past two months and 104 have been reported in July.

(Courtesy of San Juan Basin Public Health)
(Courtesy of San Juan Basin Public Health)

Viruses constantly change through mutation and develop variants. The CDC has monitored those variants for changes in the severity of resulting symptoms, their infectivity and any impacts on treatment effectiveness.

The delta variant is one of four variants of concern identified by the CDC. The fast-spreading virus has quickly become the dominant variant in the United States.

In Colorado, 95% of positive, randomly selected tests were delta variant cases, and it is believed to be the dominant variant in La Plata and Archuleta counties, according to SJBPH.

People who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated are vulnerable to the delta variant. Most new infections are found among people who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine.

For fully vaccinated individuals, infections occur in a small proportion of people, even with the delta variant, the CDC said based on preliminary findings. The “breakthrough” infections tend to have mild symptoms, and the vaccines still provide strong protection against severe symptoms, hospitalization and death.

However, vaccinated people who catch the delta variant can spread it to others, according to early evidence. In the past, the vaccines appeared to limit the contagiousness of vaccinated people when they were infected with other variants of the virus.

SJBPH, in alignment with the CDC, also recommended masks for people ages 2 and older. Formerly, the mask recommendation included people ages 10 and older.

Both health entities strongly advised schools and higher education institutions to require face coverings for all people in indoor school settings.

The health department recommended the vaccine for anyone who has not received it. Those who have received the first shot of a two-dose vaccine should also complete their vaccination series.

SJBPH also continued to recommend additional precautions in public indoor spaces, such as 6-foot distancing, ventilation improvements and symptom screening.

Fully vaccinated people should get tested if they experience COVID-19 symptoms or three to five days after a known exposure. They should also wear a mask in public, indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.

People who are immunocompromised should wear a mask, maintain 6 feet of social distancing, and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces regardless of their vaccination status.

SJBPH reminded parents to get eligible students vaccinated right away to have as much immunity as possible by the first day of school. Twelve- to 17-year-olds are only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, and the two-dose series takes at least five weeks from the first shot for people to complete the series and reach maximum immunity, according to the SJBPH news release.

The full schedule of vaccine clinics, pop-ups and mobile clinics is available online at www.sjbpublichealth.org with dates and times available in both Archuleta and La Plata counties.

“The renewed commitment to masks will provide additional protection with the more transmissible delta variant spreading,” Jollon said. “This has been a long road, and we recognize people have pandemic fatigue. But the best way to reduce your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19 is to get vaccinated right away and wear a mask in public indoor settings.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

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