Officials have given us a piece of good news this week. The time is here, finally to begin to ease up on the restrictions; but the fear and worry felt by so many over the past two COVID pandemic years, has not lessened for everyone. The county is encouraging those who have been vaccinated and boosted to begin to relax and to allow themselves more freedom of movement and more opportunities to socialize in the coming months. After so long, some are admitting — “That’s something we’ve forgotten how to do.”
“All signs appear to be able to allow us to move to an endemic phase of this virus,” said Chaffee County Public Health Director and COVID Incident Commander Andrea Carlstrom. “COVID is easing. This is good news … let’s have a respite just now. Yes, we’ll need to be prepared to be able to handle things in case we get another variant. But no one knows what would happen in that case. Right now, we should enjoy this time when the vaccination rates have grown, and Omicron, while infectious, has been manageable.”
Carlstrom said that because of the reduced number of people coming in to get tested, Chaffee County Public Health has scaled back its COVID testing to just Monday and Thursday, with the exception of major holidays celebrated on Mondays (such as President’s Day this Monday) when testing will be on Tuesdays.
The state wants to discontinue the COVID dashboard, but the county is debating what do do regarding this tool. Many members of the community who had taken to checking it daily say they want it to continue. But Carlstrom pointed out that with the Omicron variant, such a high percentage of people contracted it, but did home testing and never reported it to the county or the state, so the figures are considered extremely undercounted.
“Now more than ever the dashboard provides only part of the COVID story,” said Carlstrom. “Our local dashboard predates the state dashboard…there still are dashboards that give people a glimpse of what is happening in Chaffee and beyond, but they rely on human accountability.”
While the pandemic situation is easing across many states, and new cases are going down in Colorado, it is good to remember that we are not yet at the point of full herd immunity, but we are moving closer. After nearly two years of this, most everyone is tired of being careful, of limiting contact, of missing out on family events
But these realities have to be recognized for two groups of Americans:
- Even while the cases of the highly infectious, but generally less serious Omicron variant are easing, U.S. deaths from COVID remain high; More than 2,300 Americans are dying of it every day. Most of these are unvaccinated, but some are those with immune-compromised conditions. For them, there is no hiatus from COVID.
- Children age five and under still have no protection — parents of young children were severely disappointed in the past two weeks, as the COVID drug manufacturers pulled back on their initial announcement that they had identified the right doses to protect small children. Instead, they delayed until likely April. This is preventing parents of young children from feeling free to do much of anything indoors. One young father of three under the age of five, said — “You know, our children have really never played with other children because of this. They have been in facemasks since they were babies, and we haven’t really gone anywhere. Isn’t it time to focus on us and making sure our children are safe?”
Chaffee County Government is still requiring masks be worn by all people when in County facilities, regardless of vaccination status. This policy will remain in place through March 4, and will be reevaluated in early March. The county will also continue to conduct county meetings virtually via Zoom to reduce COVID-19 exposure risks to staff, elected officials, and members of the public.
The county’s public libraries are still giving out free N95 facemasks (while supplies last). While the news is encouraging, the Board of County Commissioners Declaration of Local Disaster Emergency for Chaffee County runs now through at least March 8, 2022, per Chaffee County Colorado Resolution 2022-05.
“People who are boosted, children face far less in danger from Omicron,” said Carlstrom. “We are in this post suppression era – we have all the tools in our tool kit to moderately protect ourselves. We have to learn to live with this, like we live with flu season every single year. Remember that the higher risk people do take precautions then too.”
In question across the country and the world, will be the future of travel requirements. Domestic airlines would like to see some blanket requirements, and most of them are not asking for a national no-fly list for passengers who have become unruly in the past two years protesting and refusing to comply with COVID mandates (primarily the facemask rules.) This is where public health can play a role. When it comes to travel in airplanes, trains, and public transit, the vulnerable audiences still aren’t protected.
There are no hard and fast international rules yet, but it is likely that for international travel there could be:
- A vaccine requirement
- A testing component
Many countries already require these, so Americans seeking to do international travel have no choice but to comply with the rules of the airlines and countries they seek to visit.
Public health has reiterated that for those who have been vaccinated, and especially for those who have received their booster, overall they can feel safer than at any time during these long pandemic years to “Loosen up a bit.” At the same time, no one can predict what things will look like in six months or a year.
“We need to develop and continue a rational stance. What we know now – what we don’t know going forward…we had to evolve into this … we’re going to have to keep evolving … It is incumbent on us to do this difficult task of reassuring people, gently encouraging people to live their lives, and restore themselves now,” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “It’s been nearly two years. We’re all trying to remember back to what it felt like before this happened, and at the same time, reserve the opportunity to speak the truth if we do have more difficulties in the winter. We have to create that balanced perspective. It isn’t just live for today, it’s keep an eye on the future.”
IMPORTANT LOCAL LINKS:
* Local testing options: bit.ly/ChaffeeCOVIDTesting
* Local vaccination options: bit.ly/ChaffeeCOVIDVaccines
* Local treatment options: bit.ly/ChaffeeCOVIDTreatment
* What to do if you’re positive or a close contact: bit.ly/ChaffeeQuarantine