San Juan Basin Public Health update, November 23, 2021

Four Corners Public Radio
By Sarah Flower
Published November 22, 2021
Medical Reserve Corps volunteers at a recent SJBPH Covid vaccination clinic in Durango./Katheryn Maloney, SJBPH /

Rates of cases and deaths from Covid-19 are the highest they’ve been in southwest Colorado since the pandemic began. KSUT’s Sarah Flower talked to Liane Jollon of San Juan Basin Public Health about staying safe for holiday gatherings. They also discussed the findings of a recent study of vaccine hesitancy in Western Colorado.

Story transcription:

Sarah Flower:
This past week was a sad one in our communities in Archuleta, La Plata, and Montezuma. The death rate has gone up for people that have died from COVID-19. It seems to be spiking higher than we've seen in a long time, Liane, what are the numbers looking like to you?

Liane Jollon:
For about 10 days, if not two weeks, we have been adding a fatality to our case count every single day. We have never seen a stretch like this in this pandemic locally. So this is really a grave concern. And it's really indicative of the difficult stretch that our hospitals are in. Many of these people are being treated in local hospitals.

This week is Thanksgiving, a time where people gather and I think maybe a lot of people missed last Thanksgiving, and are gathering again this year. What are your thoughts on this coming week and advice to people out there that are considering gathering.

People really want to get together with friends and family. This has just been an absolute, horrific, almost two years that we've spent together fighting this pandemic. It is so normal and so natural that we want things to go back to normal. And we really were hoping that this winter would not look like last winter. But due to the fact that there is a third of the population in most states that has not yet gotten vaccinated, there's just plenty of opportunity for the Delta variant to spread. And we only expect the holidays to lend itself to more spread in communities. So unfortunately, Colorado is going into the holiday season with a very high rate of transmission, and we're going to have some difficulties keeping ourselves safe through this holiday. So our recommendations, of course, are that people really utilize the community testing. Colorado has done a wonderful job of making testing widely available, it's free to everyone, we have testing available every day in La Plata County and in Archuleta County. Please, if you're exposed or if you're planning on traveling or gathering, go in and get yourself a test. The other thing that's really widely available in our communities is boosters. If you've already gotten vaccinated, Colorado was early to recommend boosters to all adults, if they're six months out from an MRNA vaccine, or two months out from Johnson and Johnson. As of last week, the FDA and the CDC also recommended that across the United States. The other recommendations that we have are continuing to use what we call non-pharmaceutical interventions. So this means masking up if you're in public indoor spaces.

I do want to talk about this booster component. If somebody is going to get their booster today, is that like the same as the vaccine where you wait two weeks? Or what does that look like after you've gotten the booster.

If you're already vaccinated, you have good protection from COVID-19. Adding in that booster just increases your protection. So it's not like there's a magic number that you have to wait X amount of weeks till you're fully vaccinated. You're simply adding layers of protection to the protection that you already have.

The last thing I want to talk about today Liane, is San Juan Basin Public Health did a really interesting study about vaccine hesitancy in rural communities. I think it's super important to talk about that component and the people that are on the fence, the wait and see community, maybe not even anti-vaxers, just people that are not ready to go and get vaccinated just yet. I'm curious about the results of that study and what you and your team found, by hearing from people that might be hesitant to get vaccinated.

There's often a dearth of information about rural communities compared to urban communities. So this was a very specific study of individuals in southwest Colorado and across the western slope, about why people have chosen to get vaccinated and why people have chosen not to get vaccinated. So overall, there were almost 4000 respondents to the poll, and the focus was on the about 500 respondents who had not yet been vaccinated about what their reasons may or may not be. So we're looking forward to using this information. It talks a lot about how people would prefer to have one on one conversations with their health care provider to make good decisions for their family's health.

How does that change the way in which your public health department helps get more people vaccinated?

I think there's a couple of things. I think one is it really does help illustrate that it's not going to be a public health department doing this alone, we really need to work within community, with health care providers, with employers, with others, schools, all of that working together so that people have the best information to make the best decisions to protect their health. I think that's one part of it. And then the second part of it is, knowing how deeply ingrained some of the hesitancy is around getting a vaccine. It also really illustrates that in this winter surge that we're experiencing right now, vaccine is not going to be the thing that controls it. We have to have non-pharmaceutical interventions to protect our health and keep us safe, while we are working through this larger issue of vaccine in southwest Colorado and anywhere across the country.

That’s Liane Jollon of San Juan Basin Public Health,
talking to KSUT’s Sarah Flower.