By SARAH FLOWER
With the Biden administration’s recent announcement of mandating vaccines for some workforce environments throughout the country, KSUT’s Sarah Flower talks with Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health Department about what this information means for Southwest Colorado.
Sarah Flower 00:00
Hi, I’m Sarah Flower with KSUT News. Today in our weekly COVID-19 update, we are joined by Liane Jollon, the Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health. This past week, President Biden came through with some interesting news around the nation in terms of a vaccine mandate and testing. Liane, I want to take this away from the national scale and bring it down to what the Biden administration announcement means for us here in Southwest Colorado.
Liane Jollon 00:31
So starting with vaccines – the President made an announcement last week that there will be OSHA rulemaking and additional federal mandates, to require people to be vaccinated to participate in the workforce…if you’re employer employs over 100 people, if you’re federally employed, or if you work with a federal contractor. So we don’t know exactly how many people that affects locally. But what we do want to say about this is that this is a really important step to take at this time in the pandemic. While the Delta variant has really changed people’s plans and expectations for this fall, you know, when vaccine became available last winter, and last spring, there was this hope and expectation that the vaccine would be our way out of this pandemic if enough people use the vaccine to protect themselves and protect people around them, we would start to see numbers drop. And that is what we saw. We saw that for months going up all throughout the spring. But then the Delta variant really hit and really turned things upside down with its higher levels of transmission. And it’s really good ability to find people who are unvaccinated, move from unvaccinated to unvaccinated person, and also put vaccinated people at risk, because there’s now just so much virus floating around. So Biden administration making this announcement, we are still waiting for the rulemaking to understand what it means locally. But in the big picture, it’s something that we’ve seen before. When we’re having a national crisis, and we need to come out of it together and work through this, we have seen examples throughout our nation’s history of doing that through a mix of volunteerism, and requirements. So if we think back to even what’s considered a very “just war”, with tremendous support and mobilization from this country. World War Two, we didn’t fight that war with volunteerism alone. We had requirements, it was called a draft. And that helped us mobilize our entire nation to get through that crisis. That’s what the Biden administration is doing now is finding ways to mobilize. You know, another way that he is finding opportunity to mobilize and bring all resources to bare, and I think this has been really overshadowed while everyone’s discussing the vaccine mandates, is he also announced the invoking of the Defense Production Act, to bring more rapid testing to every community, especially because of this Delta variant. So for the entire 20 months that we’ve been doing this, we’ve had supply chains broken, you know, at different times, it’s been different things. It’s been PPE, it’s been testing, it’s been ventilators, it’s been treatment, right. And we know that all of this starts with testing, you cannot do anything to control a pandemic, unless you know who is sick. And in anticipation of this Delta wave growing, he announced he’s invoking the Defense Production Act, to ensure that there’s enough rapid testing so we can contain disease. We’re watching this piece of the story really, really closely, so that we can make sure that we can bring all of those resources as they become available to this community as quickly as we can. And we’re thankful for this mobilization of resources.
Sarah Flower 03:59
Now, let’s get away from the national scale and look at what Colorado did last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment added a new topic point to their COVID-19 data dashboard, which is information around breakthrough cases. What’s the importance of including this information of breakthrough cases at this point in the game Liane?
Liane Jollon 04:20
Right – in Colorado, with the new data that’s up on the website is publishing that you’re about six times more likely to end up dying from COVID and three to four times more likely to end up in the hospital from COVID if you’re not vaccinated. So again, vaccine is the best protection that we can find. There are other stats out there and I think our local stats really show you know, you’re 10 times more likely to die and up to five or six times more likely to end up in the hospital. So this information is being studied. We study it locally, the state’s publishing it, there’s new information being put out there on the national level, but it’s really to parse out that the vaccines are working to keep you from severe illness to keep you from being hospitalized and to keep you from dying. So when we see these hospital numbers go up as steeply as they’re going up. It is mostly unvaccinated people in the hospital. There are tremendous numbers of unvaccinated people getting really, really sick right now. And many of them are not going to make it. So here in Colorado, you know, it’s a mix, right? We have things are open, and people are partaking in daily life. So there are people that are getting sick in other ways. And there are people that are in car wrecks, and all of the things that you you know, would need a hospital for. Yet, because of the high levels of unvaccinated people here and everywhere, our hospitals are filling up, we’re over 90% full across the state of Colorado. We’re running out of ICU beds. And this is really unfortunate at this point in this pandemic.
Sarah Flower 04:24
It also comes at a time our flu season is here. We talked last week about RSV and children being on the rise. And we talked about this unvaccinated demographic. I think it’s important to include the 11 and under are still not eligible to get vaccinated as schools are in full swing right now. And maybe they’re in masks and and maybe they aren’t. But this past week, also Governor Polis had announced that he’s anticipating an October deadline for children to get vaccinated, which I know the FDA has had a lot of pressure on them to make sure that vaccines are available before the end of 2021. What are your thoughts on that?
Liane Jollon 06:35
There’s tremendous pressure on the FDA and the CDC to have vaccines available to school aged children. And we’ve learned across this pandemic and you and I’ve talked about it a lot just how important it is to have in-person learning. Kids perform better families perform better, the economy performs better. All of these things rely on kids being in school. It’s really hard to start a school year when the largest percentage of unvaccinated Americans are people under 12. There has been conflicting information over the last couple of weeks coming out of the federal government about what the timeline is. So the latest information as of the last few days is that Pfizer will be the first pharmaceutical company to submit data to the FDA so that the FDA can review the safety and then pass it on to the CDC to make that recommendation. So if things stay on track, they do plan to do that in the next couple of weeks and decisions could be made as early as October. We as an organization will plan with local partners to ensure that we have the infrastructure and the resources to get vaccine out as soon as that becomes available. But we’re also, I think, cautiously optimistic because these timelines have moved a lot.
Sarah Flower 07:51
Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health, anything else you want to add for us today?
Liane Jollon 07:56
We’re not going up as fast as the rest of the state with the Delta variant. We’ve worked really hard through August to ask people to take it seriously, so we can keep kids in school, and we’ve actually seen our rates plateau and start to dip a little bit and I feel feel nervous saying that out loud because we don’t want them to send the signal like okay, we’ve done it, we’re done. We’re still seeing cases go up everywhere in Colorado, especially in mountain towns that have had high tourism. People here have put their masks back on. We’re taking it seriously. We have our largest school district requiring masks and it seems to be a stable situation for us here. And we just want to thank people for that.
Sarah Flower 08:40
Liane Jollon, thanks so much for your time today and every Tuesday here on KSUT for our weekly COVID 19 update.