Summit County struggling with delta variant

County, chamber host town hall to discuss the variant’s presence in the community and potential next steps moving forward

Visitors and residents walk along Main Street in Breckenridge on Friday, July 2, 2021. So far this season, local lodging companies and organizations are reporting strong occupancy numbers and are optimistic for the rest of the summer.
Photo by Tripp Fay / Tripp Fay Photography

The last time Summit County held a town hall about COVID-19, it was early May and the county was moving into level green. The 6-foot physical distancing rule and all capacity restrictions were removed, and the county removed its mask requirement for indoor public spaces a couple weeks later.

Shortly after, the county entered into what seemed to be a new normal — July 4 celebrations were in full swing, occupancy for short-term lodging appeared to be on the up and up, and this summer’s trail traffic is looking to have similar trends to last year.

Though this summer largely felt like the virus was no longer impacting Summit County, officials from the county’s public health department are now telling a different story. In recent weeks, the delta variant’s presence is growing, causing a spike in breakthrough and overall cases.

It’s not just in Summit County. Cases are also up in the state and across the nation, and recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new interim recommendations stating that even fully vaccinated individuals should start wearing masks indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission.

The data changed so fast that Summit County Public Health and the Summit Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual town hall on Friday, Aug. 6, to discuss the latest data and how this could impact the community moving forward.

By the numbers

New cases this week: 68

Seven day cumulative incidence rate: 177.6

Hospital occupancy: 52.9%

New hospitalizations this week: 3

Vaccination rate: 78.1% of residents are fully vaccinated. 86.3% have received at least one dose.

Source: Summit County Public Health

During the town hall, Public Health Director Amy Wineland noted that the county has a high vaccination rate of 78%, but that its incidence rate is about 178 cases per 100,000 people and that the community’s hospital occupancy is about 53%.

Wineland presented some mobility data attributing to these seemingly contrasting data points. Wineland said Summit is the most visited county in the state, and that there are about three overnight visitors for every resident since July 4. Wineland presented a chart detailing that a portion of these visitors are coming from states with low vaccination rates.

Factoring in these unvaccinated visitors with the population, Wineland said that means the community is considerably more vulnerable to the virus.

“How does that impact our vaccine rate?” Wineland said. “It actually drops us down to just below 70% for our vaccination rate, so we definitely are not able to fully benefit from our high vaccination rate here in our community because it has been diluted from our visitors.”

Wineland noted that the county plans to adopt restrictions only if hospitalizations increase, or if a more “dangerous” or “vaccine-resistant” variant of the virus begins circulating throughout the community.

“Our hospital capacity has not been impacted, our health care system has not been impacted yet,” Wineland said. “We did hear the governor say on Monday and some of the experts at the state are thinking that we will likely hit hospital capacities the same level we did late fall last year, so we’ll have to wait and see if that does come to fruition. The good news is that here locally, our hospital has not hit its surge capacity.”

During the town hall, attendees were also reminded about the protocols of when to get tested and when to quarantine. If a vaccinated individual was exposed to the virus, then they do not need to quarantine at that time. If an unvaccinated individual was exposed to the virus, then they need to quarantine for 14 days. That individual would also need to get tested three to five days after that exposure if they still have not exhibited any symptoms.

As for whether a mask mandate or other restrictions were to be implemented in the future, Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said the commissioners were meeting with the health department on Tuesday, Aug. 10, to discuss next steps.

Lawrence said she was “surprised and saddened” about the community’s current state with the virus, and that “we cannot continue to legislate our way out of this.” Lawrence encouraged viewers to take personal responsibility and to follow recommendations set by the public health department.

“I don’t want us to be forced back into this situation where all of a sudden, public health is going from providing the recommendations … into instead this really heavy hand of us having to mandate what’s frankly common sense in our community,” she said.

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