As the Delta Variant rages across the country, KSUT’s Sarah Flower spoke with Brian Devine of San Juan Basin Public Health about how it’s affecting Southwest Colorado.


Sarah Flower 00:00
Hi, I’m Sarah flower with KSUT News. Today we are joined by Brian Devine, the Environmental Health Director and Deputy Incident Commander for COVID-19 Response for San Juan Basin Public Health, for our COVID-19 update. Brian, thanks for joining us today.

Brian Devine 00:17
Thank you for having me, Sarah. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Sarah Flower 00:19
It’s been a minute since we’ve been able to regroup and chat and catch up on some things, I think the most predominant issue on most people’s minds in terms of COVID-19 is this increase in the Delta Variant and what we know right now and how it’s affecting our community. Let’s fill us in Brian.

Brian Devine 00:37
So we all know at this point that a variant is a genetic mutation of the virus that causes Covid-19. The virus is mutating and evolving constantly, as it spreads through the human population. And most of these variations or mutations don’t really change anything about how the virus performs or how it affects us. The Delta Variant is different. It has a combination of mutations that appear to make the virus substantially easier to transmit, and substantially easier to catch. It appears to be more severe, at least in some populations, some age groups. And there is some emerging evidence that there’s no protection against this variant from just a single dose of a two dose vaccine. Although fortunately, we’re seeing there’s still very high protection provided by completing the recommended vaccine series. So it is a very concerning variant, it’s what we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, that it has supplanted other variants because it is easier to catch and easier to transmit. And we’re starting to see that in western Colorado, we expect to see that across the entire United States. In the coming weeks and months, we had other variants that were dominant, that were really well represented in our data. And now we expect that about 75 to 90% of all cases this week in western Colorado will be this Delta Variant. So it really is taking over in the same way that it’s taken over elsewhere in the world. And it’s just, again, substantial evidence that it’s very easy to transmit and acquire this virus. Unfortunately, the way that we’re seeing this play out, is with more infections, and larger outbreaks. If you are in a workplace or in a social event, and you expose people, maybe a couple of them would have got sick when we were dealing with previous variants. And now we’re seeing almost everybody who was exposed, actually get sick and test positive, because this variant of the virus is much easier to acquire.

Sarah Flower 02:45
In some parts of the country right now, Brian, and from what I understand, this is although breakthrough cases of people that are vaccinated can still get sick, which we knew before the Delta variant exploded, that people that are getting sick and hospitalized and dying, by and large are those that are unvaccinated. Are we seeing that here in southwest Colorado as well?

Brian Devine 03:07
Absolutely true. Yes. Like I said, there’s some evidence as to changes in vaccine effectiveness with this variant. But we don’t see any change, especially with hospitalization, and severe disease and death. Those figures have not changed. Almost all people who are hospitalized, who have severe disease, and who die with this virus, regardless of variant are unvaccinated. One of the changes that we see in Delta is people who are partially vaccinated really start to perform like people who are completely unvaccinated. Whereas before, we saw that partial vaccination did provide a good amount of protection. It doesn’t appear to in this Delta Variant. But it’s still absolutely the case that the vaccines are highly effective. And as long as you’re completing that recommended vaccine series, and that shows up in the data, not just in western Colorado, but everywhere that has seen the Delta Variant, and it is the unvaccinated population that is by far at the greatest risk.

Sarah Flower 04:06
And a little bit changes the narrative for what I’ve certainly known in the last, you know, 16 months about COVID was that, well, I wasn’t really with a person very long, unmasked. Now that duration is much smaller than a 15 minute window. From what I understand with this Delta Variant.

Brian Devine 04:25
That’s exactly correct. That’s one of the ways that it’s easier to transmit. Basically, the easiest way to think about it is the amount of virus that you actually need to inhale in order to develop an illness is now much smaller. So that could be because you were with an infected person for less time, you acquire an amount that previously wouldn’t have made you sick. But now it does. It could be you were farther away from that person. It could be that it was airborne in your indoor air and you were actually never close to that person at all. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is a lot of workplaces letting their guard down and being punished for it. So not just that people are getting sick when they wouldn’t have been sick before. But where workplaces have no precautions in place for their unvaccinated staff at all. And now all of them are getting exposed, and all of them are getting sick. We’ve had two very large workplace outbreaks in the last two weeks, one at Nissan of Durango and the other at Walmart in Pagosa Springs, in which just about everybody who was exposed, has developed an illness or at least who has tested positive. And these seem to have had a contributing factor of a lack of precautions in the workplace. I’m not trying to pick on these businesses because we know that they’re not unique. But I do think it’s really important for workplaces to continue to take this seriously because you can lose a really large number of your staff, if you’re not taking simple steps like requiring masks for your unvaccinated staff, encouraging your staff to get vaccinated and just holding sick people out of the workplace. At least one of these outbreaks started with an employee coming to work while symptomatic not being excluded and having no precautions in the workplace that led to a lot of other people getting sick and even some being hospitalized.

Sarah Flower 06:17
I want to talk about switch gears here a bit and talk about Colorado Governor Jared Polis put an end to emergency health orders in regards to COVID-19. What does that exactly mean and break the details of that

Brian Devine 06:34
I think it’s important for people to understand exactly what the Governor did and did not do last week with change to executive orders. I saw it reported already that Colorado State of Emergency is over. And this is not true. The Colorado disaster declared disaster emergency remains in effect. What has changed is Colorado is no longer using executive orders to control the pandemic. And the best way to think about this is these are extraordinary powers that the Governor gets in times of a declared emergency to, for example, contain disease. What the Governor has actually done here is take away those extraordinary powers. Because they’re no longer necessary. They’re not no longer necessary, because COVID is no longer with us. They’re no longer necessary, because we now have the tools in place at both the local health department level and the state health department level to contain disease without these extraordinary powers. So we all know that testing is still widely available. And people should get tested when they’re exposed. If they’re unvaccinated, people should get tested if they develop symptoms, regardless of their vaccination status. And we have testing widely available in both our counties, including rapid testing, where you can get a result in just 15 or 30 minutes. We all know that we have vaccines available as a powerful tool with clinics six days a week, even seven days a week, some weeks, again, in both of our counties, and these vaccines are highly effective. This is another tool that we didn’t have when we were relying on those emergency powers of the Governor to contain disease. And we all know that we should be wearing masks when we’re around unvaccinated people. We know that we should stay at home when we’re sick. And we know that we should try to keep our distance from other people who are unvaccinated and just practice smart practices in the workplace and in our social events. So we have all the tools to keep ourselves safe. Now, we’re no longer reliant on those extraordinary powers that come from the executive orders. But the declared emergency is still in effect at the state level as well as at the local level from San Juan Basin Public Health. We still have our Public Health Advisory in place, keep yourself safe in in unvaccinated or mixed vaccine status crowds. So we all know that COVID is is here to stay. The good news is we have the tools to manage this, we believe on a long term basis now. And if people will take advantage of the safe and highly effective vaccines, then we won’t need to use those tools very often either.

Sarah Flower 09:13
Brian Devine, Deputy Incident Commander for COVID-19 Response for San Juan Basin Public Health. Is there anything else you’d like to add for our listeners today?

Brian Devine 09:22
I’d just like to give a thank you to everybody who has complied with public health measures, supported the community and kept each other safe. We are not out of the woods yet, as we’re seeing the Delta Variant come into this region and spread across the country. We have the tools, we have the knowledge. Please continue to keep yourself safe and your community safe. And we’ll all get through this together.

Sarah Flower 09:44
Brian, thanks so much for your time and for joining us today on KSUT for our COVID-19 update.