High Pitkin County vax rates insulate residents from outbreaks, officials say
Coronavirus positivity rates remain low; hospitalizations have dropped off
Despite an influx of summer tourists that is likely to peak next week with the Fourth of July weekend, the number of COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County remains low, sources said Friday.
“We used to have one of the highest incidence rates (of the virus) in the state and the nation,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said. “Now it’s one of the lowest. Our vaccination rates are very high.”
As of Friday, 75% of county residents had received a first dose of vaccine, while 56% were fully vaccinated, according to online Pitkin County statistics. No one has been hospitalized at Aspen Valley Hospital with COVID-19 in the past two weeks, while cumulative incidence rates and positivity rates remain low, according to the statistics.
Josh Vance, the county’s epidemiologist, said Pitkin County has been averaging 1-to-2 positive cases of the virus per week over the past four weeks. At the same time, the number of people in Aspen and the rest of the county has been increasing, which is a good sign the spread of the virus remains under control, he said.
“We’re seeing hot spots emerge in areas (of the state) with low vaccination rates, like Mesa County where (the vaccination rate) is hovering around 40%,” Vance said. “Definitely (spread of the virus) is related to vaccination rates.”
More than 90% of people confirmed to have COVID-19 who needed to be hospitalized in Colorado during the second week of June had not been vaccinated at all, according to the state health department.
One of the main concerns in the state now is the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, which originated in India and appears to about 50% more contagious than the Alpha variant that previously dominated. Evidence out of Australia indicates the Delta variant may be able to infect people who simply walk past each other, Vance said.
“That’s why it spreads so much more quickly,” he said.
The Delta variant, which has been found in 28 of Colorado’s 64 counties, is behind a majority of current COVID-19 cases in the state. As of June 13, about 75% of the new COVID-19 cases in Colorado contained the Delta variant, according to the state’s online virus data.
The majority of those 534 cases – 288 – have been found in Mesa County, according to the online state data. In fact, officials from the CDC arrived in Grand Junction this week to assist with the outbreaks in Mesa County, according to news reports. Garfield County has reported 27 cases of the Delta variant, according to the state COVID-19 website.
Dave Ressler, CEO of Aspen Valley Hospital, said he met Friday with his counterparts from hospitals in Mesa County, where beds are filling up and outbreaks are occurring at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“My fellow hospital administrators are so frustrated,” he said. “Hospitals are full.”
The reasons for the 40% vaccination rate in Mesa County remain unclear, though concerns about vaccine safety and infringement on civil rights have been mentioned, Ressler said.
“There’s not a single reason,” he said. “But the notion of not being told what to do comes up.”
Ressler said the Mesa County outbreaks make him feel very fortunate to live in Pitkin County, where the correlation between the high vaccination rate and getting back to normal is clear.
“Our community’s success and being able to open up and enjoy our lives is directly attributable to our vaccination rate,” he said. “And it is setting us free.”
Pitkin County has had one confirmed case of the Delta variant — which occurred about three weeks ago — but the person did not infect others because those around the infected person had been vaccinated, Vance said.
There have been reports of fully vaccinated people becoming infected with the Delta variant, though the numbers remain low, he said. In addition, those who are fully vaccinated and become infected generally have mild symptoms. The Pfizer vaccine, in studies from England, has been shown to be 88% effective in combating the Delta variant, he said.
Vance urged people who haven’t been vaccinated or those who have only been partially vaccinated to get fully vaccinated, especially with the Delta variant circulating. Studies indicate that partially vaccinated people run a higher risk of infection with the Delta variant, he said.
Pitkin County will continue to closely monitor positivity rates and have each positive case tested for the Delta variant as the Fourth of July holiday — traditionally one of the busiest weekends of the year — approaches, Vance said.
Peacock remains confident Pitkin County’s high vaccination rates will continue to insulate residents from the large outbreaks currently occurring in Mesa County and, to a lesser extent, Garfield County.
“I think the community’s done a great job,” he said. “And while the pandemic’s not over, we are on the winning side of thing at this point.”
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Writer-director Bobby Kennedy III’s long-in-the-works movie based on Hunter Thompson’s 1970 campaign for Pitkin County sheriff is being released in few U.S. theaters Friday. The closest to Aspen is Movieland in El Jebel.