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Larimer Health Officials Urge Vaccinations As 'Delta Wave' Hits Northern Colorado

Matt Bloom
Roughly 57% of Larimer County's population has been fully vaccinated. The health department's new goal is to get the vaccination rate up to at least 70%.

Larimer County public health officials are urging unvaccinated residents to get immunized as the region sees COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations tick up due to transmission of the contagious delta variant.

The county’s daily case rate has tripled since early June to about 80 per 100,000 residents. Hospitalizations have doubled in that same time span. At least 30 people are now receiving inpatient treatment for the disease at local hospitals, according to county data shared during a virtual community meeting on Thursday.

So far, the numbers are lower than previous peaks seen throughout the pandemic. Still, the recent increases are concerning, said Jared Olson, a population epidemiologist with the health department.

“Our current levels of vaccination are supporting us and absolutely doing a great job,” he said. “But they’re not enough that we can completely avoid this delta wave or the harm that it will cause some people, most of whom will end up being unvaccinated.”

In the virtual update, Olson and other officials outlined their response to the rising metrics. Here are the main takeaways:

Local vaccination rates are high, but need improvement

Roughly 57% of the county’s total population has been fully vaccinated, with more getting the shot each day. That rate has helped keep cases low for several months.

But the county is seeing outbreaks increase again, especially among unvaccinated residents, because the delta variant is transmitted more easily than other strains of COVID-19, Olson said.

“What this suggests is we need a broader and stronger push for vaccinations, even among younger populations and those individuals who may not feel at risk themselves,” he said.

Communities with even higher rates of vaccination, such as Boulder County, have seen a smaller uptick in new cases and hospitalizations, said Tom Gonzales, the county’s public health director.

The health department’s new goal is to get the vaccination rate up to at least 70% of the total population. To do that, staff are holding pop-up and mobile clinics almost every day of the week.

The county is also partnering with local schools and Colorado State University to boost rates among students, Gonzales said.

He hopes the efforts result in at least 50,000 more shots in the next couple of months.

“That’s doable,” Gonzales said. “That’s going to substantially help us knock down this wave.”

No new mask mandate or business restrictions yet

Recent data suggests that breakthrough infections in vaccinated residents, while rare, can also contribute to the spread of the disease. That prompted new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control earlier this week.

The CDC recommends vaccinated residents wear masks in indoor public settings in parts of the country where transmission rates are “substantial or high,” which includes Larimer.

The county so far has not reinstated a local mask mandate like some other areas around the country. No new capacity restrictions on businesses were announced.

But the situation is evolving quickly, Gonzales said.

“We’re going to stick with the current recommendation of the state, which is that unvaccinated people should wear a face covering while indoors in public,” he said. “But we’re going to continue to review new information as it comes out.”

When asked if he will start wearing a mask indoors again, Gonzales said he would.

“Certainly I’m going to start wearing my face covering again and do the right thing as far as what guidance we get,” he said.

School guidance is still in flux

Officials said the recent rise in case numbers will likely influence back-to-school guidance. Gonzales said he is in favor of fully in-person learning this fall, but with caveats.

“I think this fall we need as many of our kiddos vaccinated as possible,” Gonzales said. “We do expect cases in schools this year, especially in those who can’t get vaccinated yet.”

The department is meeting with school district leaders multiple times each week, Gonzales said. Ideas being floated include increased masking, testing and social distancing in classrooms to help prevent the spread.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is currently updating its statewide guidance for schools for the upcoming year. Once those new recommendations come out in the next few weeks, Larimer will follow suit, Gonzales said.

Residents interested in learning more about the vaccine or finding an appointment can visit thehealth department’s website.

I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.
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