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Eagle County seeing ‘breakthrough’ COVID cases among vaccinated

No new mask mandates on the horizon — at least for now

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine wait to be filled into syringes during a vaccination clinic at Vail Health Hospital in March. There are more “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 among the vaccinated due to the delta variant of the virus. Health officials say getting the vaccine to more unvaccinated people can help tamp down the outbreak.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Here’s some unfortunate news: You can be vaccinated against COVID-19 and still contract the virus. Thanks, delta variant.

The new variant of the virus has prompted a new spike in infection rates around the country and locally — although that spike is still well below those seen in 2020. Hospitalizations and deaths are also lower than they were a year ago.

Confirmed cases in Eagle County were nearly flat in late May and early June, but have slowed ticked up in July.



The problem is twofold with the delta variant: Unvaccinated people are contracting the mutated virus, which spreads and reproduces quickly enough to overwhelm the protection vaccines provide. That new variant is also more communicable.

Vail Health Population Health Director Chris Lindley said at this point, health care professionals say that virtually every new COVID case is the delta variant, since 83% of all diagnosed cases are that variant.

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The variant is also “at least” twice as contagious as the virus that first appeared last year in the U.S.

But vaccines do help.

The vaccines are “remarkable” at preventing hospitalizations and deaths, Lindley said.

‘Our best protection’

“There’s a benefit to being vaccinated — it’s our best protection against COVID,” said Heath Harmon, Eagle County’s public health director. “But there’s no such thing as a vaccine that’s 100% effective.”

Harmon said the danger of the delta variant is how quickly it reproduces. That reproduction, known as the “viral load,” can overwhelm a person’s immune system, even in someone who’s fully vaccinated. That also means an infected person expels more viral particles with every cough, sneeze or breath.

That means, for instance, that one roommate who isn’t vaccinated and contracts the delta variant can spread the virus to another roommate who is vaccinated.

The rule remains that people should avoid close contact, and limit their indoor exposure to no more than 10 minutes in those situations, Harmon said. Brief hugs or a peck on the cheek don’t pose much danger.

For those who may have been exposed, Harmon said people should be tested between three and five days after that exposure.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on July 27 released new guidelines for the fully vaccinated. Those guidelines include advice to wear masks indoors in public “If you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.”

No mask mandates — yet

Harmon in an email wrote county officials aren’t currently recommending a new indoor mask mandate or issuing a new public health order. The focus for now is increasing vaccination rates for residents, he added.

In an earlier telephone interview, Harmon noted that federal guidelines are for the entire country. Eagle County’s vaccination rates are above state and national averages.

“We’ll benefit from higher vaccination rates, and can benefit even more from more vaccinations,” Harmon said.

Lindley said the vaccines are “extremely safe and effective … why would you not want it?”

And, he added, more vaccines are needed because the COVID virus isn’t going away.

“We have to learn to live with it,” Lindley said. That includes not just vaccinations, but managing overall health. The virus hits hardest among those with high blood pressure, diabetes and other manageable conditions, he added.

“We all need to get a little healthier before going into fall and winter,” Lindley said.

Harmon agreed, noting that even as the virus fades from the front page, it’s still in the world’s human population, and still potentially dangerous.

“In between all the headlines, the pandemic’s still going on,” Harmon said. “But now we’re in a management mode, not a crisis response.”

No new mandates — yet

While COVID cases are surging in Eagle County, no new mask mandates are coming — at the moment.

“We are not currently recommending a new indoor mask mandate or public health order,” Eagle County Public Health Director Heath Harmon wrote in a Wednesday email. Harmon added that state and local officials will continue to review guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 


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