Health officials advise precautionary measures to avoid spread during the holiday season
COVID-19 cases are surging in La Plata and Archuleta counties as the holiday season approaches. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elevated both counties to “high” community status last week.
La Plata County had a case incidence rate of 142.3 per 100,000 population and Archuleta County had an incidence rate of 178.2 per 100,000 over a seven-day period last week. The counties, which are part of the same regional health service area, also recorded 22.9 new hospital admissions per 100,000 last week.
San Juan Basin Public Health Executive Director Liane Jollon said the increase in cases could be the result of several factors.
“How the CDC determines community levels is based on both transmission rates and new hospitalizations,” Jollon said. “Because we are in a region that simply has less access to health care and hospital beds, we have the potential to reach a high standard faster than other regions.”
Predicting an increase in COVID-19 cases can be difficult for medical professionals due to emerging variants, but from what Jollon has seen over the past three years, there appears to be a correlation between the winter season and high cases.
She said respiratory illnesses tend to increase in the winter months, and since COVID is similarly transmitted through air and saliva droplets, it might have a similar seasonal pattern.
These seasonal increases may be the result of people spending more time indoors, large family gatherings for the holidays, and colder weather.
“COVID waves are also driven by the emergence of new variants that are more contagious than previous strains floating around in the community,” she said.
Jollon advises people with symptoms to test using home testing or performing on-site testing. She said home tests are accurate, but there may be a delay between first exposure to COVID and a positive test. Free testing is also available at the La Plata County Fairgrounds through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“It’s not uncommon to be symptomatic for three, four, even five days before your home test comes back positive,” she said.
Free at-home testing is available at SJBPH locations in Durango and Pagosa Springs.
Jollon said it’s especially important for people in a high-risk group to test when they’re symptomatic, because those patients can be given antiviral drugs as soon as they test positive.
People considered to be at high risk are people aged 65 or over, people who are obese or overweight, pregnant women, and people with certain existing health conditions like cancer or chronic kidney disease.
When a community is classified as “high” risk, the CDC recommends individual prevention measures such as:
- Wear a high quality mask or respirator.
- If you are at high risk of becoming seriously ill, consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities in public where you may be exposed.
- If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk of becoming seriously ill, consider self-testing for infection before contact and consider wearing a high-quality mask when indoors with that person.
The public health agency says the best way to prevent serious illness is to get vaccinated. A list of local providers administering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters is available on the SJBPH website.
People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised or who cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19 can receive a monoclonal antibody treatment called Evusheld. This can help avoid getting sick with COVID-19. However, it is not for people who already have the virus or have been recently exposed.
KN95 masks are also available free of charge at SJBPH receptions in Durango and Pagosa Springs. Jollon said KN95 masks provide better protection against the virus compared to surgical and cloth masks.
She said people traveling for the holiday season should receive the most recent reminder and should consider wearing masks while shopping.
“If you’re traveling by plane or bus, we really recommend using a mask in those crowded places and if possible, don’t travel if you’re symptomatic,” she said.