by Mark Craddock
OUR WORLD — As a brutal year crawls to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic is proving once again that it defies borders, beliefs and ideology — and it has little respect for anniversaries. The dawning new year looks much like the waning old year, with national case counts and deaths continuing to rise; some indication that local surges may be peaking; and hope on the horizon as vaccinations continue going into the arms of our most vulnerable neighbors.
The equally grim economic consequence of the pandemic also continue, eased a bit by $600 stimulus checks that should be in the mail next week.
A Grim Tally
As of press time Wednesday, 335,623 Americans have died of COVID-19 and related causes; 4,631 of them in Colorado; 16 in Huerfano County; 18 in Colfax County, New Mexico; and four in Las Animas County.
That is about one in every 1,000 citizens nationally.
The United States leads the world in total cases at 19,334,975, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Colorado has seen 326,668 cases, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported — 510 of them in Las Animas County and 281 in Huerfano County. New Mexico has seen 138,659 COVID-19 cases, according to the New Mexico Department of Health, with 501 cases in Colfax County.
Since Christmas Eve, Las Animas County has seen 45 new COVID-19 cases, while Huerfano County logged eight new cases and two deaths.
Vaccine Rollout Continues
As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 11,445,175 doses of vaccine had been distributed across the country and 2,127,143 people had received their first of two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The CDPHE reported that 67,047 of those vaccines found their way into the arms of Colorado residents. NMDOH is presently not releasing those statistics for New Mexico.
“We have vaccinated the majority of our staff and have started with first responders,” Kim Lucero, director fo planning and development at Mt. San Rafael Hospital, said. “We have an additional 100 vaccines and we will administer as per the CDPHE guidelines set forth.”
One more resident of the Veterans Community Living Center died early this week, bringing the death toll in the facility’s COVID-19 outbreak to 11, according to spokesperson Trapper Collova.
He said four additional employees have tested positive for the virus and are quarantining, but Monday’s test results showed no new infections in either the veterans home or the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center.
Three members of the public are hospitalized at SPRHC with the virus, he said, and one resident is recovering in one of the nursing home’s dedicated COVID-19 room.
Nursing Homes, Frontline Healthcare still priority
In terms of who gets a vaccine and when, the ground is still shifting almost daily. Federal, state and local public health agencies are still vague at best in estimating when the general public will be able to get vaccinated. On Dec. 21, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) released new guidance on who it believes should be next in line for vaccinations. But the CDPHE is sticking with its plans, which square with earlier ACIP recommendations.
All are working under Phase 1a of the rollout, in which frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents are at the front of the line. But the new ACIP recommendations call for people age 75 and older to be included with first responders in Phase 1b, along with other essential workers such as grocery store and transit workers and teachers.
Under ACIP’s newest guidelines is a Phase 1c, which includes all people age 65-74, adults with high-risk medical conditions and non-frontline essential workers, such as bank tellers and members of the media.
ACIP’s Phase 2 would then open up vaccination to everyone else.
But Colorado is not changing its rollout – yet.
“Essential workers and those 65 and older are Phase 2,” according to a statement by the CDPHE. “Prioritization is subject to change based on data, science and availability.”
Colorado’s Phase 1b includes first responders and non-frontline health care workers. There is no Phase 1c in Colorado’s plan. Most area hospitals have already begun vaccinating their Phase 1b workers.
Phase 2 in Colorado includes people age 65 and older, adults with high-risk medical conditions and essential workers whose jobs put them in regular contact with the public — including teachers, transit workers and grocery workers.
Colorado’s plan also has a Phase 3, when members of the general public become eligible.
Estimates on vaccine rollout to the general public range from as early as February to as late as the summer of 2021.
Check’s in the Mail, to Little Avail
After delaying for five days, President Trump on Dec. 27 signed the latest federal stimulus bill into law, meaning most Americans will be receiving $600 in federal aid, perhaps as early as next week.
But many economists agree that $600 will do little to remedy the current economic malaise as unemployed and under-employed workers struggle to makes ends meet. Especially hard hit is the restaurant and bar industry, which after a devastating year of shutdowns, is facing another major holiday with its doors locked.
Nationally, the unemployment rate stands at 6.7% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Colorado’s rate is only slightly better at 6.4%.
And in rural southern Colorado, where unemployment routinely runs well above the state and national averages, the trend continues.
Huerfano County in November had the third-highest unemployment rate in the state at 8.7%, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
The CDLE said non-farm payroll jobs in Colorado declined by 6,900 from October to November, ending a six-month streak of job gains.
Unemployment claims,which peaked in mid-June at 446,000, have been on the climb again since mid-November when most of Colroado’s 64 counties – including Huerfano and Las Animas – moved to “red – severe risk” restritions on the state’s COVID-19 dial.
As of Dec. 5, CDLE logged about 271,000 ongoing claims for unemployment assistance.