School mask mandate extended once again through Dec. 17
Increasing case incidents and concerns over statewide ICU bed availability influence decision
On Friday, Eagle County Public Health and Environment extended the current public health order requiring masks for all students, teachers, staff and visitors in all pre-kindergarten to eighth grade buildings. The order was set to expire Friday, but will now be in effect through Dec. 17.
In a press release announcing the extension, Eagle County Public Health said the extension came as the statewide incidence rate has been “steadily increasing in Colorado as Intensive Care Unit beds for hospitals approach full capacity, which has notable impacts for Eagle County residents.”
“We are also seeing an increase in cases within Eagle County since returning from Fall Break,” said Heath Harmon, director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment, in the release. “Severe disease and hospitalizations should decrease as immunity increases and we are seeing that benefit in Eagle County, but that is not the case for the rest of the state. Hospitals and health care workers remain extremely stressed where ICU beds are nearly at full capacity. This means hospitals elsewhere are not receiving transfers when patients need a higher level of care, whether from COVID-19 or from cardiac arrest. It is important for our community to keep this in mind and help decrease the level of spread here in Eagle County.”
Locally, Chris Lindley, the chief population health officer at Vail Health, said in an emailed statement to the Vail Daily that the hospital currently has two unvaccinated COVID-19 patients admitted in the hospital.
“What we have experienced previously is an uptick in local COVID-19 cases during the winter months and, with that, an increase in hospitalizations. We can expect that same uptick this winter with the existence of the delta variant,” Lindley wrote. “This is why vaccination is so critical. It helps minimize the severity of COVID-19 and can help lower hospitalizations.”
In the last week, Eagle County’s COVID-19 incidence rate has risen from 187 cases per 100,000 on Oct. 22 to 296 cases per 100,000 as of Friday. This is back to the incidence rate in late August, when the public health order requiring masks in schools was implemented.
Eagle County Public Health is recommending that all residents wear face coverings when entering public indoor spaces if the incidence rate hits or exceeds 300 cases per 100,000. Incidence and case rates for the county are available at EagleCountyCovid.org.
“Despite our interest and upcoming discussion to plan for when this pandemic turns the corner toward being endemic, our community and the state of Colorado are just not there yet,” Harmon said in the release.
The Eagle County Board of Public Health will be holding a work session Monday to review COVID-19 trends to consider possible changes, as immunity in Eagle County residents continues to increase.
The other possible factor that could further increase immunity, and thus lead to a lifting of the public health order, is vaccine eligibility for children ages 5 to 11, which Harmon told the Vail Daily last week was “on the horizon.” At the time, he said it could come as early as Nov. 5.
At Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting, the district’s Superintendent, Philip Qualman, said the district currently is not considering any school-based vaccination clinics once this approval is granted.
“We think that the clinics that already exist through Eagle County Public Health, Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical — they have planned to handle the potential new vaccination needs from this new approval process, so it likely won’t cause much change in our operations,” he said.
COVID-19’s impacts on sports have been fairly limited this year with the exception of volleyball and football cancellations at Eagle Valley High School in September. However, masks will be required for middle school indoor athletics for the duration of the public health order.
Katie Jarnot, the school district’s assistant superintendent, said at Wednesday’s school board meeting that basketball players, while playing, will not have to wear masks, but sidelined players and spectators will be required to wear masks until the order is lifted. No masks will be required for high school athletics.
Masks will continue to be required on school buses as well as for anyone visiting school health offices.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.