As COVID-19 metrics remained at sustained low levels in San Miguel County, public health officials made the move into Level Green last week, signaling the slow return to normalcy as restrictions loosened on businesses, allowing for 100 percent capacity in lodging, retail shops and restaurants. Bars and sporting events may operate at 50 percent capacity, or 500 people, whichever is fewer, and six-foot social distancing remains in place. While Level Green is the lowest risk category on the dial, it’s still not a green light to adopt a pre-pandemic, devil-may-care mindset, according to public health officials.
That’s because, in part, the county is inextricably connected to the global tides of the virus, and there is still a significant part of the population who may be vulnerable to the virus or on whom the virus may hitchhike to less protected populations.
“In San Miguel County, 80.4 percent of our population 16 years and older has had at least one dose,” county public health director Grace Franklin said this week. “Herd immunity is a really tricky thing. When you look at that 80-plus percent, that’s really only about 55 percent of our total population who has immunity through vaccines.”
As of press time Thursday afternoon, the county has had 871 total positive cases, including one active. Maintaining the five commitments and keeping COVID on the radar is the prudent course of action, given the anticipation of another busy summer, she said.
“In June, we’re going to have a huge influx of people from all over, both people who are vaccinated and people who aren’t and may have a higher risk tolerance for the virus,” she said. “Vaccination rates are not as high as San Miguel County’s everywhere. Globally, we’re seeing variants that are devastating places with lower vaccination rates, so the key is, how can we get our world protected before we have variants that are even more dangerous and deadly?”
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12. On Wednesday, an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed suit after discussing the results of Pfizer’s trial of over 2,200 adolescents, which found the vaccine 100 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. Based on the trial findings, the vaccine did not appear to pose any additional or different risks for children than for adults. Fevers were the most common side effect for 12-to-15-year-olds in the trial, with about 20 percent developing a fever as compared to 17 percent for the 16-to-25-year-old trial group.
“We do not have data on the long-term side effects of these vaccines, though we are close to one year’s worth of observation amongst the first vaccine trial patients,” Dr. Diana Koelliker, of the Telluride Regional Medical Center, said in a county news release. “We do, however, have data on the long-term side effects of having had COVID-19 in children and adults, especially as it pertains to the heart, along with patients’ respiratory and nervous systems. We ask that families discuss vaccination together and consider that a vaccine brings us one step closer to sports, extracurriculars, socializing and in-person learning.”
Local vaccine clinics will begin offering the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 and above with parental consent, beginning next week, with a clinic in Norwood Thursday at the Lone Cone Library and another in Telluride May 21 at the Telluride Intermediate School. To schedule an appointment, visit bit.ly/pfizernorwood or bit.ly/pfizertelluride.
Approval of a vaccine for younger residents comes at a time when vaccination rates are slowing nationally as most people eager for the jab have been able to receive one. Many people are still deciding whether to get vaccinated, while others have chosen not to, further adding to a social dynamic that has often polarized along political lines across the country. Franklin noted that clear communication among friends and family about risk tolerance and social decisions remains key, and relating to loved ones opting for different actions with compassion offers the best outlook for positive outcomes.
“We can all normalize conversations about the vaccine to get us through this last major push,” she said. “Have compassionate conversations with people you can relate to.