Delta to blame for Pitkin County’s increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations
Public health director: We’re not recommending mask mandate, but people should wear mask indoors regardless of vaccination status
The COVID-19 delta variant continues to affect Pitkin County, with elevated case counts, a high rate of virus transmission, more hospitalizations and increasing numbers of fully vaccinated residents testing positive.
That’s according Pitkin County’s online COVID-19 dashboards and Public Health Director Jordana Sabella, who on Thursday continued to urge residents and anyone else who has not yet been vaccinated to get the shot and help reduce spread of the virus.
“Remember back to the end of June?” she said. “We were super low. (Now) we have an elevated rate of cases, which started increasing after July Fourth. (The increase) puts us in a high level of community transmission.”
Hospitalizations also have cropped up again.
Bucking recent trends that saw very few COVID-19 patients admitted to Aspen Valley Hospital, three such patients were admitted in the past week, Jennifer Slaughter, hospital spokeswoman, said Thursday. Two of those three COVID-19 patients remained in the hospital as of Thursday afternoon, she said.
The case numbers in the past week are not as high as the week before, though Pitkin County’s incidence rate remains well above the threshold recently set by the Centers for Disease Control for areas where both vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear masks indoors.
“We’re not recommending a mask mandate,” Sabella said. “But we do continue to strongly recommend that while our risk (of transmission) is substantial or high, individuals … should mask up indoors regardless of vaccination status.”
Pitkin County’s COVID-19 numbers tell the story, though the online data dashboards can be somewhat difficult to interpret because of the way the case numbers are reported.
For example, the county dashboard reporting “case and testing data” said Thursday that 27 Pitkin County residents had tested positive for COVID-19 in the past seven days. It also stated that 15 “out of county” people tested positive in the past week. Those numbers must be added together for the total number of weekly cases in the county, which for the week ending Thursday was 42.
That compares with a total of 59 cases the week before, including 28 residents and 31 visitors from outside the county.
The total number of new positive cases — from both residents and those outside the county — figures into Thursday’s positivity rate of 5.7%. However, only the 27 local cases are taken into account when calculating the county’s incidence rate, which was 152 per 100,000 residents Thursday.
The CDC says that anywhere with an incidence rate of more than 50 per 100,000 residents should prompt the wearing of face masks indoors.
As is the case across the country, the delta variant is to blame, Sabella said.
In May, just 1% of cases in the U.S. were caused by delta. Today, more than 80% of new cases are the result of the delta variant, she said.
“It spreads more than twice as fast person-to-person as the previous strain,” she said. “Delta is most likely the predominant variant here in Pitkin County as well.”
She said “most likely” because the county has officially detected just 12 cases of delta, according to the county dashboard, because testing for the variant must go through the state public health department lab and results take weeks.
Pitkin County epidemiologist Josh Vance said last week that the county had 13 total delta variant cases, nine from residents and four from visitors. He agreed with Sabella that the current spike in cases was most likely from the delta variant.
“Given the increase in cases we’ve seen, I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of those cases came back positive for the delta variant,” Vance said.
Another indicator of the delta spread may be the number of fully vaccinated Pitkin County residents who have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks.
On July 29, Vance said the rate of infection among the fully vaccinated had increased quickly over the month. At the time, Pitkin County had logged 55 infections among fully vaccinated residents since mid-April, he said.
On Thursday, that number had jumped to 75, an increase of 20 cases in just a week, according to Pitkin County’s data dashboard. And while that is just 0.5% of the nearly 11,000 Pitkin County residents who have been fully vaccinated so far, half of the new COVID-19 cases in July were among fully vaccinated residents, Vance said.
“People are still developing symptoms — not everyone — but hospitalization and the death rate are much lower among those who are vaccinated,” he said. “The vaccines are highly effective in combating severe symptoms. But you can still get and spread it.”
He urged any residents with COVID-like symptoms to get tested for the virus.
Sabella also recommended that any resident over the age of 12 get vaccinated.
“My concern is just wanting to reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” she said.
Sabella said the county Public Health Department doesn’t plan to recommend that the Pitkin County Board of Health impose an indoor mask mandate when the body meets Thursday afternoon. The board will instead talk about COVID-19 safety requirements for schools in the upcoming school year, she said.
While media reports indicate that a vaccine for children under 12 could be approved during the upcoming school year, Sabella said she hadn’t yet heard a timeline for that.
The Aspen Ambulance District seeks a property-tax increase to keep up its level of service, and the Pitkin County commissioners showed initial willingness this week to put the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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