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An uptick in COVID-19 cases in the county, the vast majority of them occurring among unvaccinated residents has caught the attention of not just Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) but county leadership.  The last time period that COVID-19 cases were this high, or higher in the county during this pandemic, were the months from November, 2020 through February 2021.

The Chaffee County Public Heath Dashboardshows:

  • 64 new cases over the last 14 days.
  • 123 cases in the last month. The only months during the pandemic that have exceeded this were November, 2020 through February 2021.
  • As of Monday, there were two COVID patients in the hospital today but in the past 14 days, there have been nine COVID hospitalizations at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center.
  • This past month was the highest number of COVID hospitalizations than in any other month since the pandemic began in March 2020, and the month isn’t over yet.
  • The current COVID-positive case load ranges in age from 28 to 76.
  • The positivity rate for the county is slowly creeping up again, standing at 4.45 percent as of Tuesday morning.

A look at transmission causes show that some two-thirds of the positive COVID cases are being spread through what is called “person-to-person” transmission. That means that it is spreading within households, workplaces, or social events, by people who live together or know each other. This fact makes contact tracing all the more important – because we know the Delta variant spreads swiftly, especially through unvaccinated people.

As far as can be determined, COVID-19 is not spreading in the school environment itself, which is a testament to vigilance and what was learned by the county’s two school districts during the last school year of in-person instruction.

While the county stands at 65.6 percent of residents who have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, this fact is also evident….that our infection numbers are high for having this level of vaccinated residents. It is not hard to imagine the shape this county would be in without the protection of the vaccines.

In fact, since the beginning of the pandemic, Chaffee County has had 1,588 COVID-19 cases, meaning that 8.2 percent of county residents have been infected by COVID so far during the pandemic.

“The Delta Variant is able to move swiftly through connections among unvaccinated people, leapfrogging through the population as it does so. It is frightening to think what this would look like if we were all still unvaccinated,” said Chaffee Board of County Commissioners Chair Greg Felt. “I believe our medical system would be overwhelmed and we would be seeing the loss of a tremendous number of elderly and immunocompromised community members.”

“It is easy for the public to lose sight of the fact that the vaccines have been saving us from a Delta catastrophe,” added Felt. “Put yet another way, we are one COVID mutation away from a Delta+ variant that retains the virulence of the current form but develops other traits which reduce or eliminate the efficacy of the current vaccines.”

In fact, a new highly mutated COVID variant — called R.1  has been detected in California. some 53 cases have already been identified, of the variant, which the CDC identified as having “multiple spike protein mutations”.

“The R.1 variant does carry some mutations that allow it to be less susceptible to the vaccine,” said Dr. Joe DeRisi, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and co-president of Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

The nearly inevitable rise of COVID mutations makes the urgency of vaccinating the county population more than a personal decision; it makes it a responsibility that we have to each other as a community.

“Human nature is compounding a challenge that we have the technical ability to resolve,” added Felt.