One year into Colorado’s pandemic, CDC offers hope with its latest guidelines
by Mark Craddock
OUR WORLD — Exactly one year ago today (March 11, 2020), the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic.
That same day, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order declaring a disaster emergency because of COVID-19, the first in a long string of public-health orders, recommendations, restrictions, mandates and closures that would come to typify a year in the throes of a pandemic.
A year ago, it was still brand new – and frightening. The virus that was devastating Asia and Europe had found its way to American shores. On March 11, 2020, Colorado had logged 44 cases of infection with the new pathogen – SARS-CoV-2 – and one death. Las Animas and Huerfano Counties, and Colfax County in New Mexico, were yet to see a confirmed case of COVID-19 disease, but it was an open question whether that had more to do with geographic isolation or the generally abysmal lack of testing in rural areas.
One year later, there is hope being administered, one dose of vaccine at a time, into the arms of millions of Americans a day. And on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations for those predominantly older Americans who are now fully vaccinated.
The gist of it: Grandparents, go ahead and hug your grandkids.
Vaccines: A Possible End in Sight
In November, 2020, a surge in COVID-19 was devastating local counties. That surge claimed the lives of a dozen residents of the Veterans Community Living Center at Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center.
It seemed sigularly appropriate, therefore, that on Dec. 22, 2020, Korean War veteran Ted Ritz, a veterans center resident, became the first person in Huerfano and Las Animas counties to be vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
As of Tuesday, Huerfano County has administered 2,950 doses of vaccine. Las Animas County has administered 6,520, and in Colfax County, New Mexico, 3,593 people have been partially vaccinated and 2,719 have received both doses of the Pfeizer or Moderna vaccine.
Nationally, vaccinations have ramped up to more than 2 million doses administered a day. In total, more than 95.7 million doses have been administered nationwide, according to the CDC. President Joe Biden announced last week that the country will have acquired enough vaccine to inoculate every adult in America by the end of March.
The latest CDC recommendations released Monday say fully vaccinated people may visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household so long as no one among the unvaccinated is at risk for severe illness if infected with COVID-19.
But the visit should be limited to one household. If adult friends and neighbors drop by, the party should move outside and everyone should still wear a mask and social distance.
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received either the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) or two weeks after receiving the one-dose vaccine (J&J/Janssen), the CDC said.
The CDC’s latest “Interim Public Health Recommendations” says fully vaccinated people can:
• Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physically distancing;
• Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physically distancing;
• Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.
But for now, the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people should still:
• Take precautions in public such as masking and physical distancing;
• Wear masks, practice physical distancing and adhere to other preventative measures when visiting unvaccinated people who are at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or have an unvaccinated household member at high risk for severe COVID-19.
• Follow the above precautions when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.
• Avoid medium- and large-size in-person gatherings.n Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
• Follow guidance issued by individual employers.
• Follow CDC and local health department travel requirements and recommendations.
Case Counts Still Climbing
Case counts in our region continue to climb, albeit much slower than during the November-January surge. And another new variant of the virus has been detected in Colorado.
In the past week, Huerfano County has logged six new cases of COVID-19 and Las Animas County recorded 10 new cases, according to the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties District Health Department.
As of Tuesday, Huerfano County had a total case count of 329 with 11 active cases and 18 deaths. Las Animas County had a total case count of 1,019 with 17 active cases and 11 deaths.
Colfax County, New Mexico, had a total case count of 710, with 46 deaths, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Colorado State Public Health Laboratory announced Tuesday that it has detected three cases of the B.1.351 variant in Colorado. This variant was first identified in South Africa. This is the first detection of B.1.351 in Colorado, but to date 68 cases have been identified across 17 jurisdictions in the U.S.
The Colorado cases — two among staff and one person who is incarcerated — are at the Colorado Department of Corrections Buena Vista Correctional Complex (BVCC).
The lab said the samples were chosen at random for sequencing as part of ongoing variant surveillance analysis.
“The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory will sequence all positive specimens from this facility to look for variants,” a March 7 press release read. “All exposed persons at BVCC will be required to complete a 14-day quarantine. CDPHE is actively investigating an outbreak at this facility.”
In late December, state health officials confirmed two cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID variant, which was first detected in the U.K.
Experts Still Urge Caution
Experts from Dr. Anthony Fauci to local public health director Kim Gonzales expressed optimism that, as vaccination continues to ramp up, the pandemic’s end may be in sight. But vaccination is a foot race against a virus that is mutating into more virulent strains, with a populace fatigued by 365 days of personal deprivation and crippling economic crisis; wary of the new vaccines; and yearning to re-enter the world mask-less, to resume some semblance of normal human interaction.
Their message: Just hold on a bit longer.
“The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has not given us any additional guidelines on fully vaccinated folks yet,” Gonzales said Tuesday. “I know CDC has been putting out new guidance but we have not changed anything yet. If a person is 14 days past their second dose of vaccine and not showing symptoms they do not have to quarantine. That is a win!!”
“But we are extremely concerned with the amount of visitors that will be coming into Colorado this month,” she said. “This could impact all of the hard work we have done in keeping COVID cases down. Coloradans need to still need to wear a mask, social distance and use good hand hygiene. We also need to get our residents vaccinated.”
“Colorado still needs to follow CDPHE Public Health Orders, as well as the Governors Executive Orders,” she said. “Therefore, we can never be less strict, we can only be more strict.”