Delta County isn’t out of the COVID-19 woods. The county’s low vaccination rate and the presence of the new Delta variant has one local pulmonologist sounding the alarm.
Dr. Sara Knutson is raising concerns about the correlation between low vaccination rates in the county and the rising number of those getting sick and being hospitalized.
“I do think those two things are so closely tied together. Anyone who looks at the Delta County dashboard would be able to tell that our number of active cases, cases per day as well as hospital numbers are increasing. It’s discouraging because the general perception in the county is that COVID is sorta done with,” Knutson said.
As a physician she’s noticed that there isn’t much if any transmission control taking place locally and with no county public health orders on tap, Knutson knows the Delta variant is taking root in the rural community.
“As soon as it gets a foothold, it quickly becomes the most dominant strain among the new cases,” said Knutson.
Last month, the Delta County Health Department acknowledged the presence of the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) in the county. First detected in India, the mutation is widely regarded by public health experts to be one of the most transmissible and severe variants of COVID-19 to date.
Public health director Karen O’Brien urged county residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible. However, the county’s vaccination rate is still below 40%.
Despite working with the state and other providers to make COVID-19 vaccine available, county vaccination rates are almost stagnant. During the last county commissioner meeting, it was noted that the vaccination rate grew recently by a mere 4% overall.
“Delta County is really going to be vulnerable to this variant like other southern states and regions with low vaccination rates because it (Delta variant) is very transmissible and we are not protected,” Knutson said, mentioning a recent graph published by the health department.
The graph clearly shows that Delta County and Mesa County are occupying the worst position on the graph with the highest hospitalizations and the lowest vaccination rates in Colorado. The Delta variant estimated to be 40-60% more transmittable has spread to 96 countries and is now the dominant strain in the United States.
“We are going to get another pounding related to this process and what just breaks my heart as a doctor is you see people coming into the hospital who have more severe disease,” she said.
Before the Delta variant, Knutson said it was easier to care for COVID patients who presented with less severe symptoms.
“Now what I am seeing is they (patients) are becoming really impossible to oxygenate and difficulty to ventilate. It just seems to me that the severity is more pronounced,” she said.
With more than 99% of the deaths among unvaccinated individuals, Knutson wants to see more vaccine advocacy especially among local primary care physicians since most people trust their personal doctor over governmental agencies.
“If you want to avoid being in the hospital or in the morgue, the path is clear. You need to be vaccinated and you need to have both doses. You can’t decide to do it when the Delta variant becomes super bad because you’ll have another month of no protection,” Knutson said.
Knutson says COVID-19 vaccines are very safe and now is the time for county residents to get the vaccine before the Delta variant or other more deadly strains take hold.
“There’s a low side effect profile, a ton of people have been vaccinated and they’ve done great and they aren’t the ones we’re seeing in the hospital and they aren’t the ones we’re seeing dying,” she said.
At this crucial junction, Knutson wants the community to take into consideration three important factors: the Delta variant is more contagious with more severe disease and higher death rates; there is a low rate of hospitalization and death among vaccinated persons and we now have more information on the low vaccination side effects.
“I am hoping that as people grow tired of hearing about their friends and relatives being in the hospital with COVID and they see that the vaccine side effects are low that they will get the vaccine,” Knutson said.