by Mark Craddock
OUR WORLD — During a week in which President Joe Biden announced there would be enough COVID-19 vaccine for every adult in America by the end of May, and Colorado announced it would receive its first shipment of the new Johnson and Johnson vaccine as early as tomorrow, an outbreak at the La Veta School District stands as a stark reminder that the pandemic goes on.
The school has once again been designated the site of an active COVID-19 outbreak, after the school’s weekly testing program revealed six positive case among the student population and staff.
The outbreak forced the school to revert to remote learning until at least March 10, superintendent Bree Jones said in a Feb. 27 e-mail to parents of district students. It spurred the cancellation of the remainder of the high school basketball season and has forced many students and staff members into quarantine.
She said the high school wrestlers, who have remained isolated from the rest of campus since February, will be able to compete in this weekend’s regional tournament in Walsenburg.
The school district provides voluntary testing for students, staff and family members at least weekly, and test results from last Wednesday, Feb. 24, revealed five positive cases, spanning both the elementary and secondary schools. Test results on Friday, Feb. 26, revealed a sixth case in the student population.
As a result of the cases, the Las Animas Huerfano Counties District Health Department issued the following quarantines, Jones said:
• All 8th graders and all junior high girls’ basketball players are subject to quarantine through March 3. Students in the 8th grade and students participating on the junior high girls’ basketball team may have been exposed on Feb. 15, 16, or 17.
•All 10th graders and all high school girls’ basketball players are subject to quarantine through March 4. The last point-in-time those students might have been exposed to that particular case was Feb. 17 at school or February 18 at the McClave basketball game.
•All 5th graders are subject to quarantine through March 9. Fifth grade students were potentially exposed on both Monday, Feb. 22 and Tuesday, Feb. 23.
As a result of Friday’s positive test, the following quarantine was issued:
•Senior class, the high school knowledge bowl team, and the high school boys’ basketball team are subject to quarantine through March 8. Students were potentially exposed during school and in basketball practice on Monday, February 22. While the initial communication from the health department indicated possible exposure on Feb. 22 or the 23, Jones said the student was not on campus on Feb. 23.
And Jones said positive staff tests have prompted the following quarantine in the elementary school:
•Certain Kindergarten – third grade students are subject to quarantine through March 9. Those notifications initially came out from the health department indicating that the quarantines were for “special ed,” Larson said. “That descriptor was not accurate and the health department attempted to make a correction. It is important that we are clear that the quarantine notification does not affect whole classes from Kindergarten – third grade, but only particular students.”
Jones said all students and staff impacted should have been contacted by local health, but parents can contact her or Principal Denise Locke at 405-312-1186 if they need clarification or more information.
This week’s announcement marks the second time the La Veta Schools have been designated an active outbreak site by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). On Nov. 19, 2020, an outbreak was declared after six staff members and four students tested positive for COVID-19. The state considered that outbreak resolved on Feb. 1.
“I wish I had better news to share, and I hope that we can continue to respond to these current challenges without any member of our school community becoming seriously ill,” Jones wrote. “I am tremendously grateful to our wonderful staff for their continued efforts and today, and every day, you need to know that we love your kids. There is great difficulty for all of us right now. We are always willing to talk with you and ask that you extend the courtesy of a direct conversation before expressing public frustration or complaint. Please refrain from speculation and reach out directly when you have questions.”
Local COVID-19 Case Counts
Local health officials reported Monday that Huerfano County has seen six new COVID-19 cases in the past week, propelled by the La Veta School ourbreak, while Las Animas County reported five new cases.
As of Tuesday, Huerfano County has a total case count of 323, with 11 active cases and 18 deaths. Las Animas County has seen 1,009 cases, with 25 active cases and 11 deaths.
“Public health nurses are continuing case investigations and are notifying those in close contact,” the health department reported.
The New Mexico Department of Health reported that Colfax County has seen a total of 702 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, with 46 deaths.
Vaccines on a Slow and Steady Climb
The CDPHE reported Wednesday morning that 3,100 doses of vaccine have been delivered to Huerfano County, and 2,418 had been administered.
Las Animas County has received 6,800 doses of vaccine, 5,714 of which have been administered.
The New Mexico Department of Health reports its vaccination statistics differently, but as of Wednesday reported that 4,958 of Colfax County’s 10,010 residents had registered to receive the vaccine. Of those, 3,564 have been partially vaccinated and 2,702 have been fully vaccinated.
After a lull in vaccine delivery prompted by the previous weeks’ severe winter storms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that deliveries are now resuming apace. As of Wednesday morning, 1,747,350 had been delivered to Colorado, the CDC said, and 1,428,854 had been administered.
New Mexico has received 800,425 vaccine doses and has administered 721,489,the CDC reported.
On Feb. 27, the Food and drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson and Johnson’s new one-dose Janssen vaccine. On Monday, Biden announced that J&J and competitor Merck will team up to produce vast quantities of the vaccine, after the administration invoked the Defense Authorization Act to assist Merck in retooling facilities to ramp up vaccine production.
Biden had previously announced his goal to have enough vacine for every adult in America by July. He announced Monday the nation would instead have enough vaccine for every adult by the end of May.
And the Colorado State Joint Information Center announced this week that the state will receive its first shipment of the Janssen vaccine as early as tomorrow. The CDPHE anticipates receiving 45,500 doses.