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Only 14 Days into the Month of January, Chaffee County Hits Highest COVID Case Rate of the Pandemic

While medical experts say the East Coast might be nearing its peak of Omicron variant cases, here in the West the peak of this COVID-19 variant may still be a few weeks away. That is hardly good news for those trying to keep businesses open, shelves stocked, schools open, and government and emergency services at peak efficiency.

“Omicron is out of control, we should assume most all of us will get it,” said Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom, who has repeatedly noted that the way out of the pandemic is vaccinations, which a significant anti-vax movement has rejected. Most hospitalizations continue to be among the unvaccinated and immune-compromised.  “Assume exposure. This is a step toward a virus moving from pandemic to being endemic. But it feels terrible right now. We are at odds with the various responses to this.”

Nationally, cases continue to rise at more than 800,000 per day, medical centers are being overrun, the National Guard is being called out to help with hospital staffing shortages in many cities.

The nation has crossed the 64 million threshold of confirmed cases, and some 1,500 Americans a day continue to die of COVID; 847,115 dead and rising. Just 64 percent of the U.S. population; some 208.6 million, are vaccinated.

The current sobering statistics here in Colorado and in Chaffee County present a serious situation:

  • The state has a positivity rate of 27 percent, and so does Chaffee County; more than one in four tests is coming back positive.
  • The county’s highest rate of COVID during the entire pandemic was Nov. 2021, with 434 cases for the month. As of this morning, Chaffee County has 468 confirmed cases already this month, making Jan. 2022 our highest positive case rate of the pandemic.
  • Chaffee County Public Health estimates that one in ten, or as high as one in every five persons in the county have been exposed to the Omicron variant; translating to broad community spread;
  • 26 percent of new cases in Chaffee County are in children under the age of 18.
  • As of Friday morning, Jan. 14, the county has seen 2,925 confirmed cases of COVID, representing 14.6 percent of the population; and that is likely an undercount due to the use of at-home rapid tests whose results aren’t reported.
  • 73 percent of those hospitalized in Colorado are unvaccinated.

“The current surge is a vertical line,” said Carlstrom. “The infecting prevalence is the highest it’s been in the pandemic.  It was one in 10 last week, it is now officially one in six, but with the home testing that’s likely an undercount.”

Across the state, finding locations to get tested are a problem and many residents report going from place to place trying to purchase the rapid home tests. Most pharmacies and health care providers in Chaffee County are offering testing, as is the county Office of Public Health.

Carlstrom noted last week that the state saw its highest one-day surge in hospitalizations in a single day. “Remember when I used to say it was one in 500? Well now in Eagle County, one in two people are infectious. Vaccinations are still the best protection, not just against getting this, but against serious illness from the virus … we’re on about day 24 of what is estimated to be a 35-day surge.”

Carlstrom recapped the efforts being made to counter Omicron, noting that “the epiphany is the strategies that worked well with Delta aren’t the strategies for Omicron. It’s almost like we’re in the midst of a brand new pandemic.” She added that the county is beginning to see cases where people have both COVID, and the flu. She cautioned that a double diagnosis — some referring to it as the ‘flurona’ – is possible, and won’t be pleasant.

She noted again that the state and the county have ample supplies of the vaccines. The vaccine bus is coming back to the county in the next few weeks, and with vaccines approved for kids five to 11, vaccination clinics are being set up with the Boys & Girls Clubs. “With the majority of our population having the opportunity to get vaccinated, we SHOULD be moving forward as we approach the third year of this pandemic,” added Carlstrom. “We are two years into this and we did an aggressive vaccine rollout.

To emphasize that point, Carlstrom recapped the difference between those vaccinated and unvaccinated:

  • Rates of COVID are 3.5 times greater in the unvaccinated;
  • Rates of hospitalizations are 12.4 times greater in the unvaccinated;
  • Rates of deaths from OCVID are 12.8 times greater in the unvaccinated.

Ark Valley Voice has confirmed that the 9-11 alert put out last weekend by the county’s Everbridge warning system was issued by Chaffee County Public Health:  “Last week we pushed out an Everbridge message on Fri. and Sat. to protect our hospital services and essential medical services from being overwhelmed,” confirmed Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom.