Eagle County’s COVID-19 numbers drop, vaccination figures climb
‘It’s pretty much solid, good news all around’
Incidence levels of COVID-19 are down in Eagle County, while vaccination numbers are up.
Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron said it’s “pretty much solid good news all around” on Tuesday when he delivered his weekly update to the county commissioners.
Last week, the county’s COVID-19 incidence rate — cases per 100,000 people — had inched into Level Orange, which is “high risk,” and that had local public health officials concerned. But this week, the county’s incidence is solidly in the Level Yellow ”concerned” realm.
“Eagle County has been flirting with orange for a while now,” said Barron. “The last thing we want to see right now is to have that disease level climb.”
Over the past week, there have been 90 new cases of COVID-19 recorded in Eagle County. In addition to the dropping incidence level, the county’s hospitalization numbers have been in Level Blue, which is “cautious,” for several weeks. That statistic matches up with what Barron is hearing from local medical providers.
“For the last month, they have been saying the level of severe disease is pretty low,” Barron noted. “That was not what they were seeing back in November.”
He added dropping severe disease levels also reflect growing vaccination numbers in the county. Barron noted that nearly 27,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Eagle County, and added that figure doesn’t factor in last week’s numbers from Vail Health. “It will be even higher when we get those counts,” he said.
Among one of the most vulnerable populations in the county — people age 70 and older — Barron said the vaccination figures are particularly encouraging. Locally, 88% of the age 70 and older population has been vaccinated.
“What that means is we have had only one case of COVID in the 70-plus group over the past two-week period,” Barron said.
Eagle County received 3,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine — 1,700 earmarked for second doses — this week. Barron learned the shipment numbers shortly before he presented his weekly report.
“If anyone in the public is frustrated there is no consistency (with the COVID-19 vaccine shipments), so are we,” he said. “It seems to come in surges. We are hoping for consistency.”
The county continues to learn about vaccine shipment amounts on a weekly basis. That means it is difficult to schedule clinics because public health personnel don’t have much advance information regarding how much vaccine they will have to distribute. This week, Barron said public health clinics will be planned in Eagle and El Jebel.
Because vaccine supply remains limited, Barron said residents often are confused by the process regarding who gets a shot.
“It is not a popularity contest,” he stated. Instead, the current strategy remains focused on priority vaccination for residents who are most at risk of contracting severe disease, Barron said.
The first wave of vaccination — which included residents and workers in senior care facilities — hit the population most at risk from COVID-19. From there, the effort expanded to include front-line medical workers and EMS personnel. The effort now includes both older residents — age 60 and older — and people who are at increased risk of exposure because of their jobs.
“If you are over 65 and working in a front-facing job that cannot be done remotely, we need to get you vaccinated,” Barron said.
But beginning Friday, vaccination eligibility will take a big jump to include a much broader base of people. It will be the first move toward herd immunity — the point when COVID-19 spread is severely curtailed because the majority of the population is vaccinated or immune.
“Herd immunity is our way out of the pandemic for good,” Barron said.
He urged anyone who is qualified to receive a vaccination in the next phase to sign up at eaglecountycovid.org.
“You can sign up right now if you are in one of those groups. Once you fill out the form, you are on the list,” he said.
It is not a case of being “worthy” of vaccination, he stressed. “You are not taking the vaccine away from someone’s grandma or grandpa,” Barron said.
Variants and vaccine variety
In discussion of the vaccination effort, Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry asked if today’s vaccines are effective against newly emerging COVID-19 variants.
“There are a lot of variants out there,” Barron acknowledged. “We are still learning about them but what we do seem to know is the vaccine seems to be preventing severe disease and death.”
“Right now, there is no reason to have that pit in your stomach when you read about variants,” he added.
Commissioner Matt Scherr asked if residents know what type of vaccine they will receive when they sign up for clinics and if they can choose between the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots.
“There are a lot of people who have been doing their own research and have their own preferences,” Barron said.
Clinic registration options typically disclose the type of vaccine that will be administered, he said.
“The most important thing is all three of the options have nearly 100% effectiveness in preventing severe disease and death,” Barron said. “Right now I really encourage people to get whatever vaccine that’s available.”