Across the United States, mask mandates are being dropped and businesses are reopening. But at the same time, public health experts are concerned by spikes in COVID-19 cases in communities all over the nation. KSJD’s Lucas Brady Woods sat down with Southwest Health System's Marc Meyer to get some clarity on the pandemic situation here in Montezuma County and the Four Corners.
Lucas Brady Woods: Marc Meyer is the Director of Pharmacy Services and Infection Control at Southwest Health System based in Cortez. Mr. Meyer, thank you for joining me today.
Marc Meyer: Thank you, Lucas.
Woods: Can you walk me through the current situation in regard to COVID cases and hospitalizations in Montezuma County?
Meyer: Hospitalizations have been low. I believe today we have no COVID patients. Montezuma County, it looks like - if you look at the fourteen-day change - is up about 43%. Which is a little bit higher than the 40% Colorado was up. So we have had a little bit of an uptick in the area around this. If you look at San Juan County, NM, San Juan County, UT, they are up about 150% or 130% for the fourteen-day change average. So things are picking up just a little bit here in the area.
Woods: Can you just explain for our listeners what it means when you say there's a spike in cases that's a little bit concerning and yet there are no hospitalizations?
Meyer: What we've seen over the last year is our hospitalizations have been in that problematic age group, where we see deaths. That's been in that over-seventy group. Colorado met their goal of trying to vaccinate 70% to 75% of the people in our state over 70. So, I think what we're starting to see is the people that are getting sick, probably are tending to be a little younger, and probably aren't the folks that we would normally find being admitted to the hospital and requiring care, unless they had other conditions.
Woods: Montezuma county is at the blue level on Colorado's COVID-19 dial. Last week, the state of Colorado updated its dial to include looser restrictions. What are your thoughts on that?
Meyer: I think that, as we go along, the more people we have vaccinated, the more we can start loosening restrictions. The problem in my mind with the dial, is that it’s really based on some sort of a negotiation between the county health department, the county commissioners and the state. It's not purely based on cases. So it's really hard for me personally to look at the dial on and find that much meaningful information on it, to be honest with you.
Woods: What are your biggest concerns for the next few months in regard to the pandemic?
Meyer: My biggest concern is that we keep the momentum and keep working to control this. This disease has become a real monster throughout the world. And I hope that we don't let up right now, as we start to get some control over it. My second biggest concern is the low vaccine rates in the country. There’s plenty of vaccine available. Even here, plenty of vaccine has been available in Montezuma County, yet vaccine rates remain fairly low. We have open clinic appointments all the time now that people could come and utilize.
Woods: I just want to confirm that you have plenty of vaccines available, but you actually have, but people aren't taking you up on all those vaccines?
Meyer: Correct. That would be the case for the other major vaccine centers in the area. We have plenty of vaccine, and we have openings in the schedule, but people are not signing up
Woods: I have to ask this question. We all know that normal life may look different after the pandemic, but when do you think Montezuma county and southwest Colorado in general will be back to some semblance of normalcy?
Meyer. If we progress people get and vaccines become more prevalent. And the numbers stay down. I think we might be able to move out of mass probably by fall. I think hopefully, we'll have something to look forward to and maybe have a more normal school year next year for teachers and kids. That's sort of my hope. I think it's gradual. We don't want to go too fast. If we go too fast, then we get these outbreaks and we fall back for a while.
Woods: What can people do to help speed that up?
Meyer: Make sure you're washing your hands, make sure you're distancing, doing all the things we've been doing in this last year. We've been saying all along, if you have the vaccine available in your area, get the vaccine that's available in your area. And just distance and be cautious of what we've been working on this last year: wearing a mask, washing our hands, and not gathering in large groups. I think, if we do those things, we can continue to progress as an area and as a country. And we'll get out of this mess.
Woods: Mr. Meyer, thank you once again for speaking with me today.
Meyer: Thank you, Lucas. Anytime.
Vaccination appointments with Southwest Health can be scheduled at swhealth.org or by calling (970) 564-2201.