Published February 15, 2022

Covid News: San Juan Basin Public Health updates

KSUT Tribal Radio News
By Sarah Flower

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/Tribal Radio

COVID-19 cases across the state and southwest Colorado are on a sharp decline. In this weekly COVID-19 update, KSUT’s Sarah Flower talks with San Juan Basin Public Health about new quarantine guidance in schools from the state health officials and whether or not we are ready to take off our masks.

Transcript [7:07]

Sarah Flower [Host]:
Hi, I'm Sarah flower with KSUT Tribal Radio. Today, we are joined with Liane Jollon, the executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBH) department for our weekly COVID-19 update. Liane, the state of Colorado has updated their guidance for children in school settings and how they are able to quarantine or not quarantine with a known exposure. Can you break this information down and what it means for schools here in southwest Colorado?

Liane Jollon:
Yes, there has been a release of new school guidance for schools across the state of Colorado, it was released on Friday the 11th. I think the first thing we want to say is the state is recommending transition to this new guidance, February 28. So we're still two weeks away from when this guidance is recommended to go into effect. And what's changed here is the state of Colorado is really trying to acknowledge that we're on the backside of this Omicron surge. And it is time to start thinking about how we manage COVID-19 over the long haul, in a more routine fashion, where we really are protective of in school learning for children because that's been such an important lesson of this pandemic, that it's of the utmost importance that schools are able to educate kids in classrooms. You know, it's good for academic learning. Kids also have not only have their emotional needs met in school, but kids have their physical health needs often met in school as well. So it's really, really important that we protect schools, but we transition to something that looks more routine. So again, the state of Colorado is looking to make this transition. Their target date is February 28, according to this guidance. And to be really clear, when they say, you know, some of the headlines around the state were quarantine no longer necessary. And we really need to remind people that when you're sick, the language isn't quarantine the public health language is isolation. So isolation is still required, right? We require people even in the new guidance to not go to school and not go to work if they are symptomatic or test positive for COVID-19. And then, when the state does do this transition in the next couple of weeks, the change in quarantine guidance is people who are vaccinated do not need to quarantine, and this goes for students and staff. But if you are unvaccinated and you've been exposed in a classroom, you're no longer required to quarantine. But folks who are exposed at home, meaning that there's a household contact, you have a family member who's currently sick, you are still required to quarantine. So, this shift is not as as extensive as it appears to be by some of the headlines that were ran.

The other mitigation measure that is starting to peel back across the nation and conversations certainly across the state and locally is masking. But as states across the country are saying that we don't have to wear them anymore. I want your opinion on this. What are we ready to remove this? Is this the next layer of peeling back mitigation and protection from COVID-19?

I think it's really important that we ask the question and we look at our community transmission rates. And as disease rates fall in community, we peel back the layers in ways that people can return to normal life and also not unnecessarily spread infection. So as of right now, today, even this new school guidance that the state of Colorado is putting out for February 28. That guidance still recommends that schools it hear to universal masking, as currently recommended by the CDC. So this transition hasn't happened yet, in any state guidance that we've received, or in CDC guidance for the level of transmission that we currently have in our community. That is not to say that that transition won't be happening over the coming days and weeks as people kind of dig into this information further and say what is the right way to peel back layers so that we can return to normal life?

As we've learned in the last couple of years, Liane, hospitalizations, and deaths are a lagging indicator. There's been a pretty significant increase in the last week of deaths and La Plata and Archuleta counties due to COVID-19. Are you surprised to see - those numbers tick up in the last ten days or so?

No, and that's because, as you've described, is a lagging indicator, right? First, we see test positivity go up, then we see cases go up, then we see hospitalizations go up. And then after that is when we see fatalities go up. And you know, one is it takes a long time to progress through the disease. But the second piece of it is, is there is a data lag time, sometimes in having fatalities reported back to local communities, because it does go through this process where someone passes. And there's literally just paperwork that gets done at the local level at the state level submitted to the CDC and then comes back to the local community as a confirmed death due to or with COVID. So because of this, there is often this lag. But the thing that I really want to stress to people is right now while we have such great news about our cases dropping, and our test positivity - is pushed down, you know, considerably from where it was in the Omicron surge, or hospitalizations haven't come down very quickly, even in our local community. So what we know is if you are at risk of severe disease, and a lot of times, this is people who are unvaccinated, right? You're 60 times more likely to end up in the hospital if you're not up to date on your vaccine. And we're seeing people with pretty lengthy stays in the hospital, which means that the beds don't free up even while the cases are coming down. So this is kind of the spot that we're in currently. And so we want to let people know, you know, you can start relaxing your precautions and doing your calculus about risk to you personally differently if you're healthy if you're vaccinated. If you're not living with people who are immune-compromised or likely to end up really sick. Of course, you can start peeling back layers, but please know our hospitals are still full.

Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health department. Thanks so much for joining us here today on KSUT tribal radio