Letter by Tom Gonzales, Larimer County Public Health Director

photo of Tom Gonzalez

August 26, 2021

In late May, we all breathed a sigh of relief. COVID-19 cases had dropped dramatically in Larimer County and with that, there were fewer hospitalizations and deaths. As our community got vaccinated, local businesses rebounded, kids returned to in-person learning, participated in sports, went to summer camp, musicians got back on stage, and we all finally felt safer visiting our friends and family.

What has changed and what is the current situation?

Unfortunately, the arrival of the Delta variant in July changed the game. This variant is extremely contagious and is causing conditions to rapidly worsen in Larimer County and across the U.S. Studies demonstrate that the Delta variant is at least twice as contagious as the initial strain.  What this means is that early in the pandemic someone who was contagious with the initial strain might have spread the virus to 2 to 3 people, but now someone who has the Delta variant may spread the virus to 3 to 6 people – leading to rapid community spread as we have seen since July. In fact, our seven-day COVID-19 case rate has increased from 22 per 100,000 people to just over 225 per 100,000, and hospitalizations are currently the highest they’ve been since January 6.  Our hospital systems are doing everything they can to maintain sufficient resources to meet all of the serious health care needs in our community, but COVID-19 is once again putting incredible pressure on their ability to provide care for every urgent medical issue.

What action needs to be taken?

Vaccines continue to be the way out of the pandemic, and with the full FDA approval of Pfizer’s vaccine this week, we are even more assured of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Most severe illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 are in those who are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated. The vaccines are working, even against the Delta variant, but there are simply not enough people vaccinated to contain the virus as well as we did before Delta. Thus, we are reaching the same thresholds that previously triggered mandates and closures to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed. No one wants to go backward, and indeed, we could not even if we wanted to do so. Instead, we need to employ new approaches to address a new situation. We need everyone to pull together and ask their family, friends, co-workers, clients, and customers to get vaccinated and to mask up, at least temporarily. It’s clear that we must act now, as a community.

The COVID-19 pandemic is stressful and challenging for everyone. However, we need to act based on the best science available. This includes the swift implementation of multiple prevention strategies, including vaccination, without imposing additional restrictions, if possible. I ask that you join me in acting on these so we can:

  • Keep children learning in-person at schools and childcares with minimal disruptions
  • Help our hospitals maintain sufficient resources to meet all critical health care needs in our community
  • Return to pre-pandemic conditions through near universal vaccination in Larimer County

How do we do this?

We need everyone who is eligible and has not yet been vaccinated to roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated. We need for everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear a mask when you’re in public indoor spaces. To help those on the fence, we need getting vaccinated to be the easy choice. Getting vaccinated today is the tool to return to all normal activities and protect others and our economy. Wearing a mask indoors reduces the spread of the virus while we work to achieve higher levels of community immunity. These are simple actions that, when taken by most of us, will keep kids learning in their classrooms, free up hospital beds, and prevent the needless loss of any more Larimer County residents to this now preventable disease.

This work has already begun. Businesses are advertising that their employees are vaccinated. Others are requiring vaccination for entry into movies and concerts. Some organizations, such as Colorado State University, are requiring vaccination and mask-wearing indoors. Where groups are not yet universally eligible for vaccination, such as our school districts, organizations are requiring everyone to wear masks and doubling down on maximizing ventilation and air filtration.

I have said this before and I will say it again, we are in a battle with a virus–and when we battle each other, the virus wins. We now have so many more tools available to us than we did at the beginning of this response. Coming together as a community, and implementing these steps now, will ensure that we can win this battle and eventually, win this war against COVID-19.

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