It’s hard to fathom that it has been 20 months since our lives were dramatically transformed by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
While many in our society, especially in Colorado, have chosen to move on from this traumatic experience, going back to normal despite the risk of contracting or transmitting the virus, the pandemic is unfortunately not over.
If you had asked us last year what fall 2021 would look like, this is not what we would have described. Pretending the pandemic is over does not negate the fact that lives are being lost every day, the public health system is crumbling, and our healthcare system is surging.
While Colorado as a state had been doing really well in mitigating the spread of the virus and managing healthcare capacity, at this moment in time, we are failing. If we don’t course correct soon, a surge is imminent. Incidence, hospitalizations, percent positivity and deaths are moving in an unprecedented and alarming direction.
Meanwhile, people are living their fullest lives, making up for lost time by enjoying all of the activities that they missed during the heat of the pandemic.
We do not assert that the majority of the population shouldn’t be resuming their lives. Over 70% of those eligible in our county are fully vaccinated, and many have already gotten their booster shot to add another layer of protection from COVID-19 – a huge milestone.
Rather, we want to acknowledge that COVID-19 is here to stay, and there is risk of the virus as we participate in activities, whether work, school, travel or leisure related. Positive cases, symptomatic or not and vaccinated or not, are still required to isolate per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for a full 10 days, and in some cases, longer.
For now, unvaccinated close contacts of people who test positive still must quarantine at least for a full 7 days and up to 14 days in some instances. Those who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to quarantine and instead wear a mask for 14 days when in public or until a negative test result is received no earlier than day 5 from exposure.
Vaccination is the key to ending the disruption of pandemic response and shifting to an endemic stance. Furthermore, boosters are now available for those who are fully vaccinated in order to increase immunity.
There are ample opportunities throughout the county to get a free shot, whether for the first time or as a booster. Our younger population ages 5-11 can get protected. This will allow children to build immunity before and throughout the holiday season, so that many families can enjoy what they have missed out on safely and in good health.
Every decision we make today has an impact on what the holiday season looks like for ourselves and our families.
We urge everyone to examine their upcoming plans and to choose activities that pose less risk, especially if there are household members who remain unvaccinated, whether eligible or not, to avoid isolation and quarantine and to slow transmission.
Outdoor events are safer than indoor events, fully vaccinated activities are optimal, virtual opportunities are still encouraged and universal mask wearing when vaccination status is uncertain can all slow the spread of the virus and is still strongly recommended.
Additionally, we must continue to stay home when ill, even with mild symptoms, until it is determined that COVID-19 is not the culprit. In the upcoming months, we hope to minimize disease tracing, investigation and quarantine requirements.
However, for now, we all must follow the CDC requirements and strong recommendations, even though they are disruptive and frustrating, and be diligent in assessing which activities and events truly provide us with the greatest return on investment.
Our county, along with the entire state, is at a critical juncture in how we navigate the upcoming months. We have been honored and humbled to serve our county in its pandemic response for nearing 2 years now.
Let’s do our part to maintain in-person learning for our children, avoid surging our healthcare system and start out the holiday season in good health and wellness.
Felt is Chaffee County Board of Commissioners chair and Board of Health chair;
Carlstrom is Chaffee County Public Health director and COVID-19 incident commander.