Testing identifies first presence of COVID-19 variant
by Marissa Lorenz
Grand County Public Health (GCPH) announced a move from COVID-19 dial phase Orange to Yellow on Friday, March 5, officially moving the County’s status from “High Risk” to one of “Concern” and relieving restrictions that have been impacting businesses and gatherings for months.
GCPH Director Abbie Baker updated the Board of County Commissioners, which sits as the County’s Board of Health, on highlights this week, detailing current numbers and trends in Grand County.
She indicated that Grand County’s case rate had dropped to 57 per 100,000 cases, well below the recent goal of keeping it below 300 in 100,000 cases and far below the 872/100,000 on February 4, just a month previously. And she celebrated that hospitalizations of local citizens had dropped from an average of 4 to 5 at any given time down to just one this week.
“I’m really proud of our county for pulling together and making a difference, so we could meet those numbers for seven days,” said Baker. However, she indicated that with Spring Break and an “influx of visitors” around the corner, she didn’t see a move to Blue in the near future.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) practical differences in the move from Orange to Yellow mean that restaurants can move last-call to 11:00 pm, and restaurants and most other restricted business and activities can expand indoor numbers to 50%, including offices, gyms, hair salons, and medical facilities.
Commissioners clarified that churches could also hold in-person services with up to 50% of the building or room capacity.
Baker described the greatest benefit would be for entities with large indoor seating, such as the Snow Mountain Ranch-YMCA cafeteria, where the difference between seating to 25% capacity and seating to 50% capacity is significant.
The Public Health Director noted that testing was down among residents, with only 463 seeking COVID-19 tests last week.
She announced that the newly-approved vaccine by Johnson & Johnson will also become available in Colorado as early as March 23. The vaccine is the only one so far approved to require only a single dose and is the only one that has been tested against the newer variants of the disease.
The hope is that the additional vaccine will help to relieve some of the frustrations with vaccine orders and deliveries that have become increasingly uncertain and unavailable.
Baker reported that a total of nearly 4,400 vaccines had been administered in Grand County and that an estimated 25% to 28% of the county’s population currently has some level of natural (as a result of having had and recovered from COVID-19) or vaccine-related immunity to COVID-19 disease at this point.
New variant and new death (with but not due to COVID) reported in Grand County News was not all positive however, and Director Baker also announced that testing had noted the first presence of a COVID-19 variant in a Grand County resident. Public Health was informed over the weekend that a PCR test performed on February 15 had come back positive for the California-Denmark variant, of which little is known.
The particular variant is thought to be more contagious than the original form of virus. A February 23 article in Science Magazine stated that the variant may be “at least partially resistant to neutralizing antibodies” and that one study indicated that
“compared with patients who had other viral strains, those carrying the variant were 4.8 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and more than 11 times more likely to die.”
The PCR test is the only test that can so far detect variations in the virus. Rapid antigen testing will not identify them.
Finally, Baker also noted a recent death that had not yet been recorded on the County website. She stressed that the death had been thoroughly investigated, reviewed by County Medical Director Dr. Darcy Selenke, and had been found due to other causes, although the individual did have COVID-19 at the time of death.
The death will be reported on the County’s COVID-19 dashboard as a Death with COVID-19 and not as a Death Due to COVID-19.
Yet, Baker remained enthusiastic and positive about the outlook of the disease in Grand County.
She encourages everyone to remain vigilant with the standard precautions of social distancing, masking, and staying home
at the first sign of illness.
She says that, with a safe Spring Break and a quieter Mud Season, “maybe we can get a better handle on our [Grand County’s] immunity and have a really great summer.”
For more information on Colorado’s COVID-19 phases and restrictions, go to covid19.colorado.gov/data/covid-19-dial-dashboard. To know more about COVID-19 in Grand County, go to co.grand.co.us/COVID.