Summit County has made considerable progress in recent weeks slowing the spread of COVID-19, and with vaccines in hand for distribution to county residents, there’s a sense of optimism that an end to the pandemic is in sight.
Despite the optimism, officials are still urging community members to be cautious and continue to take the necessary steps to keep themselves and others safe as the county continues the vaccine rollout in the coming months.
“With all of this great news, we do want to caution our community that of course we have a long, long, long road ahead,” said Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long.”
Wineland joined other county officials in a news conference Wednesday afternoon to update the public on progress being made in reducing COVID-19 numbers throughout the county and to provide new insights on how officials will be managing the distribution of vaccines moving forward.
Wineland lauded residents, visitors and businesses for helping to slow the spread over the past month after case numbers peaked in late November. Over the past two weeks, the county’s case rate has been reduced to about 706 new cases per 100,000 Summit County residents, a near 50% decline from a peak of 1,352 per 100,000 at the end of November. The positivity rate, which reflects the number of tests that return positive, also has declined substantially to 5.7% from a peak of more than 15% at the beginning of December.
Those metrics should continue to drop as more residents are vaccinated. The county already has distributed nearly 1,000 doses, making the first vaccinations available to front-line health care workers and first responders. On Thursday, Dec. 31, the county will open up the distribution of vaccines to Summit County residents ages 70 and older.
The vaccines initially were going to be offered only to residents 75 and older, but the county lowered the age restriction to fall in line with new guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that was announced Wednesday, Dec. 30. The adjustment means an additional 1,500 residents are now eligible for a total of about people 3,000 countywide. It’s unclear how the change will impact the vaccination timeline originally set out by the county as the allocation still largely depends on how many doses the county gets in a given week.
“We don’t have 3,000 vaccines right now to give,” Wineland said. “We have just over 800. But we need to continue to chip away at giving this to our community. … We know we’re getting vaccines on a weekly basis, so that’s really great news. We don’t know how much we’re going to get next week until the end of the week. So we plan and strategize for the week, and we shift if we need to add more distribution sites … if we get more, which is what happened this week. We were only expecting 200, and we ended up getting three times that amount.”
The county currently has the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available — both considered 95% effective — which are being distributed through pharmacies at Safeway in Frisco and City Market in Dillon and Breckenridge. Summit County Public Health also is offering a drive-thru vaccination clinic by appointment at the Summit County transit depot in Frisco.
The decision to offer drive-thru points of distribution was a deliberate one by the county in order to reduce the risk of having community members congregate. The drive-thru clinic also is efficient, allowing as many as 80 people an hour to get vaccinated, according to Abbie Cobb, part of the Northwest Regional Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response staff.
Cobb said Summit County officials first practiced the drive-thru system in 2017 as part of a statewide exercise focused on the distribution of antibiotics.
“It really benefited us in that we had a chance to plan it, set it up, fill the positions and figure out what we needed to do,” Cobb said. “So when COVID started, we realized at some point we’d be where we are now with the vaccine and started having conversations in late spring about the best way to do that.”
Individuals getting vaccinated through the drive-thru clinic will go through four stations: one to check in, one to fill out paperwork, one to get the vaccination and a post-vaccination area for officials to make sure individuals are safe to leave.
Public Health Nurse Manager Sara Lopez said it’s important that even vaccinated community members continue to take all precautions to help protect their neighbors until a majority of the county has been vaccinated and herd immunity has been achieved.
“While we still have a lot of the virus in the community, it’s absolutely vital that we all continue to protect ourselves, wear a mask, and practice the six commitments to containment until times goes on and we know more, and we’re able to vaccinate more,” Lopez said.
Wineland said public health officials are shooting for between 70% and 85% of individuals getting vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
Wineland also voiced confidence that the vaccines and existing public health measures being taken by members of the community will be effective in combating a more contagious coronavirus strain recently discovered in the state.
“It’s not unusual to see this happen,” Wineland said. “It happened with the Spanish flu, where over time it became more contagious and less deadly. The scientists are really confident the vaccine does cover, and will still be effective against, this new strain. But what’s really important for people to understand first and foremost is we know how to protect ourselves. We need to make sure we continue following those six commitments and make sure we continue to protect our community at the same time as we continue to get these vaccines off of shelves and into arms as quickly as possible, so we can get out of this hole we’ve been in for so long.”
Community members who’ve already made appointments say they’re excited to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the community.
“(Thursday), I get my vaccination, and I’m very happy to reduce the risk and get on with life as soon as we can,” said Don Wolf, a 77-year-old Silverthorne resident.