County grapples with spate of COVID-19 deaths

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by Marissa Lorenz
After weathering the storm of COVID-19 with just six related deaths in nearly a year and a half–only two of which were due to COVID-19–Grand County has recorded another six since the beginning of September.

Five of those most recent deaths can be directly attributed to COVID-19 illness, according to Grand County Coroner Brenda Bock. The sixth case was an individual who died with COVID, but while experiencing “many other contributing factors.” The decedents ranged in age from 44 to 75, and only one had been fully vaccinated.

“The severe increase in COVID-related deaths in the last six weeks is directly related to how different the Delta variant is impacting individuals that are otherwise healthy or may have survivable comorbidities,” offered Grand County Public Health Director Abbie Baker as explanation.

“Our sincerest condolences go out to the families of these individuals. We are hopeful that this trend does not continue.”
The increase in deaths accompanied a large increase in active cases during the same time period. Just two weeks ago, Baker reported 104 new cases in the previous seven-day period, a one-week case rate of 66.1.6/100,000, and an average of 13 cases per day.

The increase in cases and deaths have also meant an increased strain on County resources, once again demanding more time for contact tracing from Public Health staff and resulting in the busiest year the Coroner’s Office has ever had, according to Bock.
However she is quick to respond, “As far as the work burden, ‘That’s what we do.’ So it’s not really a burden.

“I feel very proud of the job we are doing, and I have a great group of deputies,” continues Bock. “I have the most loving and compassionate people working for me. This job can be hard–really hard. Big county coroners rarely, if ever, know any of the people they respond to. In Grand County, we know a lot of the families we work with. That’s the good part and the hard part–it’s not just a job; it’s a calling.”

Fortunately, data from more recent weeks shows a decline in new cases. But Baker continues to urge caution.

At the most recent meeting of the Board of County Commissioners/Board of Heath, she reported that the county is starting to see higher rates of reinfection. Individuals who had COVID-19 between March 2020 and May 2021 are no longer experiencing the same levels of natural immunity to the disease and seem to be especially vulnerable to the transmission of the Delta variant.

Baker encourages residents to continue best practices of masking, hand washing, and social distancing and recommends testing at the first sign of symptoms.

For more information on COVID-19 in Grand County, including most recent statistics, testing times and places, and to make an appointment for vaccination, go to co.grand.co.us/COVID19.