County receives more vaccines, ends 2020 with caution and hope

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Ouray County has completed vaccinations for most of the highest-priority medical personnel in the first phase of the state's phased plan to administer immunizations for COVID-19.

Forty people have received their first round of the Moderna vaccine so far at public health, according to information from Tanner Kingery, the county's public health director.

Ouray County is currently in Phase 1 of distributing the vaccine. A few EMS, dental and pharmacy personnel remain at the top of the vaccination list, as well as law enforcement, according to information provided by Kingery to leaders during a meeting Wednesday afternoon.

That means Ouray County is getting closer to moving into Phase 1B, which has expanded to include new groups of people eligible for the vaccine. Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday he would include individuals age 70 and older as part of the Phase 1B group receiving vaccines next. 

His announcement moves older Coloradans into the same category as police, firefighters and paramedics in the state’s new Phase 1B. Teachers and others who work in education, food and agricultural workers, mail carriers, people working in manufacturing, transportation workers, grocery workers, journalists reporting in the field and people who provide services to those experiencing homelessness will also join Phase 1B.

The announcement comes after the confirmation that a new, more virulent strain of COVID-19 was detected at the Colorado state lab through genome sequencing. The new type of the virus, called the "B.1.1.7 variant," was first found in the United Kingdom. An Elbert County man who had not traveled recently was confirmed to have the mutated form of the virus this week.

Kingery said he thinks the new strain was already circulating in the state, due to the man not having a travel history, and it was just detected first in Colorado due to improved technology at the state lab.

At this time, health officials believe the Moderna vaccine will provide some protection from the new strain, according to Polis' statements Wednesday. The new strain is not necessarily more deadly but health officials have warned it spreads easier than the original virus.

The health department has received another shipment of vaccines – 200 total doses so far – and Kingery asked the public to be patient with the speed the department is able to administer them.

"It's not like we're taking breaks and can get this done faster," Kingery said Wednesday. "We're literally not taking lunches, not taking breaks and getting this done as fast as we can. I just encourage everyone to be patient with us as we work through this."

"This type of rollout has never been done in the history of medicine so people have to understand we're doing the best we can with the resources we have, with the shipments we have, with the number of doses we get, with the guidance we get," he said. "Sometimes it comes late and sometimes it doesn't come at all. So we're just really doing our best and I just want everyone to know that."

The county will need approval from the state to move into Phase 2 of vaccinations, because the vaccination effort is coordinated with all the counties across the state. Other counties across Colorado are still vaccinating healthcare workers, those in long-term care facilities and other high-priority groups so it might be a little while before Ouray County can move forward to the next group receiving the vaccine.

At this time, the county is asking individuals to go ahead and fill out an online form to be notified when the vaccine is available for them, even if it may not be until later this spring or summer. CLICK HERE TO FILL OUT THAT FORM.

With New Year's Eve approaching, Kingery asked people to be mindful of gathering with others and remember COVID-19 is still a threat.

"Swapping air right now with people you don’t live with is not a good idea," he said. He encouraged folks to participate in virtual celebrations and avoid crowds. "I know it’s a huge holiday that we all love, but COVID is still a very real and very problematic thing in our country so we need to continue to be vigilant."

Participants of the multi-agency meeting Wednesday afternoon closed their discussion by thanking County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd and Kingery for their hard work during the 2020, which has included missed vacations, lots of overtime, and endless hours negotiating the uncertainty of the pandemic.

"I know we've said this often – there's no playbook for how to do this and you guys have had to do a lot of things on the fly," said Ouray Mayor Greg Nelson. "I've seen a lot of people work a lot of extra hours and work hard to do unified command in addition to their regular one or two other jobs."

Nelson specifically commended Boyd and Kingery as well as the staff at the health department for their work during the pandemic, which started in March and is an ongoing emergency like no other they've ever dealt with in Ouray County. "You guys have given selflessly and I just wanted to say thanks."

Ridgway Mayor John Clark seconded the sentiments.

"You guys deserve way more thanks can we can even give," he said.