Sudden increase in SLV cases could have impact into winter months


Courier reporter

SAN LUIS VALLEY — The number of positive COVID cases in the San Luis Valley has increased at an alarming rate in recent weeks. According to information posted on the SLV Emergency Preparedness and Response website (www.slvemergency.org), there were 2 positive cases in the San Luis Valley on September 17.  As of October 6 – less than three weeks later – that number has shot up to 27, a more than tenfold increase.   

“This mirrors what’s happening across the state and the nation,” says Linda Smith, regional response lead with the Alamosa County Department of Public Health.  “As far as this region, it’s all over the map in terms of where it’s happening and why. Our numbers have been low for quite a while.

We almost got down to zero in September, but then they started going back up again, and, based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think they’re in any one single cluster.  I think it’s because people got a little complacent and stopped being as careful.  It’s a case of COVID fatigue. Aside from that, there’s no one single thing we can pin this on.  There aren’t even two or three.”

Fortunately, of those 27 cases, there has been only one hospitalization so far, and that happened during the week that ended September 26.  But that doesn’t mean there won’t be more.

“Statewide, hospitalizations are better than they were in March or April, so that’s good news,” Smith says.  “Here, we’ve been running pretty low on hospitalizations for quite a while with about one case every couple of weeks for the last month to month and a half.  But hospitalizations usually lag behind by two or three weeks, and we do expect those numbers to go up in the next weeks. “

Smith is still hopeful that, even with the increase that they expect to see, the number won’t reach previous spikes.  “The biggest spike we had here in the valley was in the week of June 20 when we had seven hospitalizations.  Our next highest was the week of July 25, when we had six.  We’re definitely following that trajectory, at least right now, and that’s concerning.  Six or seven cases may not sound like much to people from the city, but…here…that’s quite a lot to have hospitalized at one time.”

This week, CDPHE released a new modeling forecast that showed, if the overall trajectory of positive cases and hospitalizations continues into the holidays, there’s a chance the hospital system in Colorado may be overloaded.

Statewide, there’s no expectation that the system will be overwhelmed in the next month but what people do now – during October and leading up to Thanksgiving – will play a significant role in how the spread of the virus plays out in the winter months.

Smith echoed that concern.

“Yes, we do want to get numbers low because during winter months, influenza goes up, disease goes up, so, we want to nip this in the bud as much as we can. But the other piece I’m looking at a lot is what we’re doing to take care of our businesses.”

Smith was referring to the recent, extensive efforts directed toward the SLV being certified, as a region, under the state’s “Protect Our Neighbor” program, the least stringent of all state programs that would allow for businesses to increase capacity to 50% in venues that could hold up to 500 people. Prior to this latest surge of cases, the application was in the final stages of being ready to submit.

“I’m hoping that this latest increase will be only temporary and delay the certification process just a little bit because this really isn’t something that an agency or even a couple of agencies can do.  We really need everybody to do their part so that we can all move forward.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, Governor Jared Polis emphasized the importance of the next few months to an even greater degree.  “This is a critical moment, and it is up to us what path we put ourselves and our state on these next few months,” Polis said. “To a large extent, these next few weeks will determine how the rest of the year will unfold. We’ve come too far together to get complacent or fatigued. We must remain vigilant and do a better job of avoiding large crowds, wearing masks, physically distancing, and washing our hands.”

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