Berthoud Weekly Surveyor | Covering all the angles in the Garden Spot

Larimer County “strongly recommends” all residents return to mask-wearing

By: Dan Karpiel | The Surveyor | August 12, 2021 | Health & Fitness

Wednesday afternoon, the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (LCDHE) urged residents, regardless of vaccination status, to return to wearing masks or face coverings in public indoor settings. The county further pressed residents who are currently unvaccinated or have yet to receive both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to do so without delay.

Per a press release provided by the county, “Due to the rapidly increasing threat of the Delta variant, primarily among unvaccinated people, Larimer County Health officials are calling on unvaccinated residents to make the decision to get vaccinated without delay. Additionally, officials are strongly recommending that all community members, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, wear masks in public indoor settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The county further stated, “The B.1.617.2 Delta variant is now the predominant strain of the virus spreading in Larimer County. Many residents have reported not knowing where they were exposed, indicating a high level of community transmission. In addition to being more contagious than previous variants, some data suggest the Delta variant might cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated persons.”

Tom Gonzales, Larimer County Public Health Director, spoke with the Surveyor on Thursday afternoon and stated he is not concerned the county’s recommendation for all to wear masks regardless of vaccination status is sending conflicting messages to residents and could potentially disincentivize vaccination.

“We’re not at a level with a high enough percentage of vaccinated residents, and with the high viral load of the Delta Variant, the message is get vaccinated so we can get these masks off. I don’t want to wear a mask either, but our case rates are rising.” Gonzales said.

In May, the LCDHE targeted a vaccination rate of 65% for all eligible county residents – at the time, those aged 16 or older – and reached the goal. This summer, the county raised that target percentage to 70%. Currently, according to the Larimer County COVID-19 data dashboard, as of Tuesday, Aug. 10, 70.8% of residents aged 16-plus have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 69.6% of those aged 12 and over have done likewise.

Gonzales said the reason for the increase in the county vaccination target percentage was to align with the recommendations put forth by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

With school slated to begin next week with full-time, in-person learning, the Thompson School District, which includes Berthoud, is strongly recommending, but not requiring, students and staff to wear masks while in school.

Gonzales explained that the county is going to do everything possible to assure that students are able to remain in school full-time. Gonzales stated he has heard from all corners of the county how “horrible” the online and hybrid learning models employed last year were for students. “Our last, last, last option is going back to virtual; we are going to do everything we can to keep kids safe and in school and with the lowest disruption possible,” Gonzales said.

He further stated that despite ample data indicating school-age children are at low risk for contracting the virus and even lower risk of becoming seriously ill – only one out of every 1,738 COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. have involved someone under 18 years of age, according to the CDC – infected but asymptomatic youngsters could potentially spread the virus to unvaccinated family members at home.

At this time, Gonzales said he does not foresee the need to move to the stronger mitigation measures such as putting capacity limitations on businesses, prohibiting large gatherings, removing children from in-person learning, or issuing stay-at-home orders, but also refused to rule anything out. “It always links to our continuum of care, if hospitals get full again, as a state, we would have to look at those. Right now, we’re monitoring it and we’re not yet at a level where we were in December and we shouldn’t be because of the vaccine,” Gonzales said.

He continued, “This is a preventable disease and we have options now with the vaccines that we did not have in December. It’s a battle between us and the virus and if we battle between us, the virus is going to win/ I get it, I have COVID fatigue, I want to be able to do the things we all do, I’m asking the community to be compassionate, and we’re close, we’re so close, we’re preventing the virus from really raising havoc but we can rally and get both the first and second shot.”

Gonzales is imploring residents who have not yet received both doses of the vaccine to do so as soon as possible. Furthermore, he said if anyone has questions about the vaccine, the LCDHE, “will answer any questions they have, we are going to give them facts and we will be honest so please reach out to us.”

Information about the vaccine can be found at https://www.larimer.org/health/communicable-disease/coronavirus-covid-19/covid-19-vaccine.

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