May 27 — mark that date in your calendar and circle it in red. It is the target day for Eagle County to emerge from COVID-19 public health orders.
“We want our community to have that on the calendar to work toward,” said Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron during his weekly COVID-19 update on Tuesday. “That is an exciting thing to look forward to.”
It’s also something that will take community effort, Barron added. In particular, the county hopes to have 60% of the local population vaccinated by that date — a move toward local herd immunity from COVID-19. Combined with continued disease spread prevention strategies during April and May — wearing masks indoors and observing social distancing protocols — Barron said the county residents can celebrate the Memorial Day holiday free from the COVID-19 restrictions they have lived with for more than a year now.
On the topic of important COVID-19 dates, Barron also noted April 16 is a biggie. On that date, Colorado plans to end its statewide COVID-19 dial system, giving control for public health orders back to local governments. In Eagle County, local control means indoor mask orders, social distancing requirements and capacity limits will remain in place. Those regulations reflect the high level of disease spread that still exists locally, Barron said.
The county remains in the yellow “concerned” phase of the state’s COVID-19 risk meter with an incidence rate of 234.2 cases per population of 100,000. There were 126 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Eagle County over the past seven days.
“We still do have a pretty high level of disease,” Barron said, “It is still important to note that we are still seeing some things around the state that are moderately concerning and as we have seen before, what happens in the state happens in Eagle County. We can’t avoid it.”
Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr noted that nationwide, the latest COVID-19 surge looks different than previous trends. The current spread is happening among younger people and reflects new, more contagious variants.
Barron agreed, noting a key takeaway from the new surge data reflects the prevalence of COVID-19 vaccination among older Americans. Even though older people are most vulnerable to COVID-19, disease spread in that demographic has been drastically reduced because so many people age 60 and older have received their shots.
“Vaccinations work. We have seen them work. We have seen them prevent hospitalizations and severe disease in our community,” Barron said.
Vaccination for all
As of this week, Barron said roughly 45% of Eagle County’s residents have received at lease one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone age 16 and older is eligible to sign up for a shot through the county’s website at eaglecountycovid.org.
Barron said clinics will continue this week and sites that were slated to administer Johnson & Johnson vaccine will instead administer Moderna vaccine. On Tuesday, the Federal Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended a pause in the Johnson & Johnson product after six people experienced blood clots after receiving the vaccine. There have been more than 6.8 million doses of the vaccine administered nationwide.
On Tuesday the county issued a statement about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “In Eagle County, 8,311 Johnson & Johnson doses have been provided since March 4. It is important to know this clot condition is extremely rare and we’ll await further guidance from CDC/FDA.
“Vaccine safety is paramount and we are responding locally to the information being provided by our federal partners. We have not had any reports from clients or local health care providers of these conditions among residents of Eagle County that have received this vaccine.”
‘Makes us safer’
To reach the goal of having 60% of the county population vaccinated by the end of May, Barron noted high turnout is needed among young adults in the community. That means more outreach efforts, which haven’t been necessary to date because until very recently there were more people who wanted vaccination that available doses to administer.
“This group wasn’t even eligible until a week ago,” Barron said. But now that they are, he urged the county’s population of residents who are 16 and up to sign up.
“Their decision to be vaccinated will help our entire community,” he said. “Every person who gets vaccinated makes us all safer.”