by Mark Craddock
OUR WORLD — During the COVID-19 surge late last year, registered nurse Tara Luckner of Castle Rock spent a grim three months administering care to the sickest patients on the COVID ward of a Utah hospital.
On Tuesday, she was seated at a table at Walsenburg’s community center, mixing and diluting doses of the Pfizer vaccine for injection into the arms of hundreds of waiting patients.
As she deftly juggled vials and syringes, thawed vaccine and diluent, Luckner said she longs for the day when she can converse with a person without a mask.
She said she started paying particular attention to her eyes — wearing a bit more makeup, donning false lashes — while working on the COVID ward, so that her patients would see more than just a masked face behind her armor of personal protective equipment.
She’ll dial it back a bit when the masks finally come off. But even an N95 mask could not hide her smile Tuesday.
“Every day is a different journey,” she said, “but this is fun. It is so much nicer than working at a hospital.”
Luckner exemplified the two faces of the COVID-19 pandemic as a brutal winter segues into spring — abiding hope and optimism in the face of ongoing danger and all-too-fresh memories of tragedy.
Tens of thousands of Americans are still contracting the virus every day and nearly 1,000 each day are adding to a staggering death toll that has exceeded 550,000 people. On Tuesday alone, 757 Coloradans tested positive for COVID-19. Two patients died of the virus.
Perhaps most alarming, two cases of the more-virulent B.1.1.7 variant first discovered in the UK have been detected in Huerfano County this week.
But also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 189,451,285 doses of vaccine have been distributed across the country and 147,602,345 have been administered.
In Huerfano County, that number rose by 299 Tuesday as citizens lined up at the community center for a mass vaccination clinic being conducted by the Las Animas Huerfano Counties District Health Department and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Mt. San Rafael Hospital hosted a similar clinic in Las Animas County, but vaccination tallies were not available as of press time Wednesday.
A Team Effort
The Tuesday event was a joint effort between local health and CDPHE’s rapid response team, which brought dozens of nurses and other medical professionals — and 1,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine — to the party.
Because the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in people as young as 16, clinicians took all comers, regardless of age. The community center parking lot quickly backed up as a rapid response team members handed out clipboards with registration paperwork to each carload. The line of people stretched at times from the center’s front door to the recently erected flood barriers, and on around the corner.
The scene inside the community center was a beehive of activity. At the entrance, volunteers took registration paperwork. Nurses at multiple tables inside the community center’s gym prepared and administered vaccines from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
At the end of the day, CDPHE Rapid Response Team Leader Jacque Revello, a veteran of many such clinics, said she was impressed with the organization and skill with which the local health personnel handled the clinic.
“It went really well today,” Revello said. “(local health director) Kim Gonzales and her staff did a great job in setting this up. Especially in rural areas, we don’t always see this level of organization.”
Locally, the Good News…
Huerfano County has received 4,970 doses of vaccine and has administered 3,735, according to CDPHE data.
Las Animas County has received 9,570 doses and has administered 9,309.
According to the New Mexico Department of Health, Colfax County has administered at least one dose to 4,564 residents — some 45% of the county’s population.
…and the Not-So-Good News
Case counts continue to climb in Las Animas and Huerfano counties, albeit still not as rapidly as during the late 2020 surge.
Since March 24, both Las Animas and Huerfano counties has seen six new cases of COVID-19. In Huerfano County, two of those cases are of the more-rapidly-spreading B.1.1.7 COVID variant.
Las Animas County has a total case count of 1,045, with 13 active cases and 11 deaths. Huerfano County has a total case count of 346, with 14 active cases and 17 deaths.
Colfax County, New Mexico, reported at total case count of 722, with 46 deaths ,according to the New Mexico Department of Health.