High vaccination rate insulates Pitkin County from delta variant

Local health officials said Thursday only they’ve seen four cases

While the COVID-19 delta variant has hit hard in some Western Slope counties, Pitkin County has so far only reported four cases, two of which involved out of county residents, an official said Thursday.

The delta variant now accounts for 58% of the new COVID-19 cases in the United States and, according to one study, is 50% more transmissible than the first alpha variant that circulated, said Josh Vance, Pitkin County epidemiologist.

“We just haven’t seen a lot of delta variant activity,” Vance told members of the Pitkin County Board of Health at their virtual meeting Thursday.

Other nearby resort counties were in the same boat as Pitkin, with Eagle and Summit counties each reporting just three delta variant cases, he said. Mesa County, however, has reported 600 delta cases, while Garfield County has seen 85 cases and Moffat County has reported 87 cases. On the Front Range, Denver has reported just 24 delta cases, while El Paso County — where Colorado Springs is located — has had 304 cases, Vance said.

“The counties with the surge here tend to have low vaccination rates,” he said. “The risk is for people who are unvaccinated.”

Unvaccinated people are three times more likely to be infected than those who have been vaccinated, Vance said.

An Australian study found that one person with the delta variant generally infects between five and eight others. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are “very effective” at preventing delta variant infection, Vance said. Still, because they are not 100% effective in blocking transmission, some fully vaccinated people will become infected, though they will experience less severe illness, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control said in late June that 4,115 fully vaccinated Americans have either been hospitalized or died as a result of COVID-19, which is a miniscule number of the millions who’ve received one of the vaccines, Vance said.

Pitkin County has the third-highest number of vaccinated residents in Colorado, behind San Juan and San Miguel counties, with 60% of residents fully vaccinated and 79% having received at least one dose, said Carly Senst, the Pitkin County’s vaccine coordinator.

That has led to a significant drop in the overall number of COVID-19 cases in the county, which is now averaging about 1.7 cases a day, Vance said. That compares with nearly 52 cases a day back in early January, he said.

“That’s very different,” Vance said.

Pitkin County’s positivity rate has increased a bit since the Fourth of July, which local health officials expected, though those numbers have dropped in recent days, Vance said. Aspen Valley Hospital also remains on solid ground, with no COVID-19 overnight admissions in recent weeks.

Jordana Sabella

In other health related news Thursday, members of the board of health appointed Jordana Sabella as public health director. Sabella was named interim director in November after previous Public Health Director Karen Koenemann left to take another job.

“Jordana has done an excellent job of stepping into the role of Interim Public Health Director over the past eight months and through the thick of the pandemic,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman, who also is chair of the board of health. “She brings a strong public health background at both the state and local level to the role, and the results of her effort cannot be more clear as Pitkin County ranks very high in national health polls after this difficult pandemic.”

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