Beginning this week, every school district in Southwest Colorado is opening their doors for in-person learning. In this week’s Covid-19 update, KSUT’s Sarah Flower spoke with San Juan Basin Public Health Department about outbreaks at schools across the state and what we are seeing in the region.

Sarah Flower  00:00

Hi, I’m Sarah Flower with KSUT News. Today we are joined by Liane Jollon, the Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health, for our weekly COVID-19 update. Liane, here we are on Tuesday after a long three day weekend, and I’m guessing that many out there gathered at a barbecue or got together in some capacity, which may or may not lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases. When can we expect seeing those numbers increasing, if at all?

Liane Jollon  00:32

Well I think we’re really lucky that we had such nice weather for the holiday weekend. And what we really hope is that people, whether they’re vaccinated, or unvaccinated chose to spend their quality time with friends and families outdoors and trying to be safe, you know, unfortunately, with this Delta variant circulating at the rate that it circulates, the recommendations have gone back to even if you’re vaccinated, please mask up when you’re in public indoor spaces. So we have seen throughout this pandemic, that after holidays, we get increases of cases. You know, people watch the numbers really closely after holidays, because it’s something that we’ve all been trained to do for the last year and a half. We don’t usually see that spike, you know, the first couple of days after the holiday, it usually takes about 10 days, maybe two weeks to really see the bump. If we spread a lot of infection over the holidays, and this year with Labor Day coming at the same time, you know, right as schools are opening schools have opened, you know, some places locally for about a week, some places they’re opening this week. So it may be hard to tease out how much of the increased spread is due to holiday versus due to schools reopening. And, you know, quite frankly, unfortunately, with the Delta variant in the community, we do expect to see increased cases when schools open.

Sarah Flower  01:55

Well, let’s talk about kids being back in school. It’s been reported that across the state where we’re seeing a lot of outbreaks this past week has been in a school setting. How are we faring here for school outbreaks in southwest Colorado?

Liane Jollon  02:11

Well, I think so far it’s too early to tell. So if we look at the state of Colorado, you know, in the last week, the school outbreak doubled. And people are really concerned about pediatric cases and the availability of pediatric health care. So our schools here locally have done just a phenomenal job over the course of this pandemic, really following the guidelines and doing the best they can to keep kids safe. So going into this school year, we do expect things to be different, and it’s much more challenging with the Delta variant. So we have some schools that have mandatory masking. We have other schools that have recommended masking. And then we have quite a few schools locally participating in state of Colorado sponsored serial testing for students and for staff. So with all of that there are potentially good protections. But we do expect our cases to go up with kids back in school and people mixing indoors in different ways. We’re seeing that happen everywhere across the country. And if kids are not required to mask, we’re seeing these cases rise really, really fast.

Sarah Flower  03:26

It was reported last week by the state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy, that pediatric cases are really on the rise of COVID-19, and Liane, a whole bunch of other viruses including RSV, where they’re seeing kids hospitalized and infected earlier where they need that intervention at a hospital level. So what pediatric hospitals across the state are saying that on top of COVID-19, and then flu season upon us, it’s a really interesting storm for kids right now.

Liane Jollon  03:58

It is, and this is why people are so concerned. And I think one of the things that we don’t realize is that pediatric ICU beds are a very limited commodity. We don’t have them in most places in the state. And in fact, many of our surrounding states only have a couple of dozen pediatric ICUs beds, so Colorado has just over 60, but those 60 beds serve multiple states. So the concern is with multiple viruses circulating at the same time, we could really put some pressure on a system that isn’t designed to have this many kids potentially sick at the same time. So RSV, typically a winter disease, we don’t see here in Colorado or really anywhere, real pressures on the need for care for RSV until January, February, those are the months that we normally see it. For some reason this year, it started to spike in August and we’re not seeing a decline in cases. So there’s tremendous concern that if the RSV continues to circulate, flu start circulating on top of that, and COVID is circulating, we’re gonna have some kids in trouble and we’re not going to have enough care.

Sarah Flower  05:12

I know that the vaccines for children are still in the, waiting to see the data. Pfizer saying by the end of September, but on the vaccine front, booster shots coming out is that something that San Juan Basin is giving that third shot out already? Or what does that look like today.

Liane Jollon  05:29

So currently, San Juan Basin Public Health, as well as other vaccine providers in the community are able to give third doses to people who have been authorized to third dose, because they have immune compromised conditions. So this is a small percentage of the population that has some specific conditions, is about 3% of Coloradans are eligible now for what’s considered a third dose. And this is because the first and second dose the evidence is, did not stimulate an immune response as protective for those individuals as it is for everybody else. So that’s what’s authorized right now. The second piece of that story is sometime in August, the Biden administration announced that by the end of September, there would be FDA authorization for booster shots for people who did actually develop the proper immune response from their first two shots. But now they may be seeing some evidence is kind of, globally, are we seeing evidence that either these shots, the first two, are less protective over time? Or are there variants that are circulating that can maybe evade some of the immunity provided by these first two shots? So in that case, what we’re talking about is a booster. Now what’s a little bit interesting about this story is the Biden administration made this announcement ahead of the FDA and the CDC. And in fact, the FDA isn’t even meeting until September 17, to review all of the evidence about whether or not this is needed, and what the safety precautions are going to be. So with that, there is some kind of unknown about what will be happening at the end of this month, which kind of makes it hard for San Juan Basin Public Health, and makes it hard for anyone to plan. So what we’re doing is we’re planning to have increased capacity, so should these boosters be authorized for everybody that we can get people in as quickly as they become eligible. We’re working with an entire community of providers, there’s healthcare, there’s pharmacies, there’s other ways to get shots. And we’re making sure all the infrastructure is there. But we also have to really put the giant asterik that we don’t know what’s going to happen, because first the FDA has to meet on September 17. And then there’s steps following that, which would then turn into the recommendations.

Sarah Flower  08:02

Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health, is there anything else you’d like to add for us today?

Liane Jollon  08:08

I think we always have to close by reminding people that the vaccines are still very, very effective at preventing you from having severe illness, from hospitalization, and from death. And we really encourage people, even with this Delta variant, which is kind of throwing questions about where we’re going next in this pandemic. The one thing we still do know, though, is that the majority of people who are hospitalized, and the majority of people who are dying right now, that’s 1000 Americans a day, are overwhelmingly unvaccinated. So please get in. Get your vaccine, protect yourself, protect your friends and family.

Sarah Flower  08:49