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San Juan Basin Public Health update, October 12, 2021


Hospital capacity in the Four Corners region is dwindling. With colder temperatures upon us, KSUT’s Sarah Flower spoke with Liane Jollon of San Juan Basin Public Health about how to keep safe while gathering indoors; and when 5 to 11 year olds might be eligible for the Covid vaccine.

Interview Transcription:

Sarah Flower  00:00
Hi, I'm Sarah Flower with KSUT News. Today we're joined by Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health for our weekly COVID-19 update. Across the region in recent weeks, particularly in San Juan County, New Mexico, the positive cases of Covid-19 have been skyrocketing. Here in Southwest Colorado, still elevated, but less so than our neighbors to the south, Liane, are we seeing this as a trend that's happening now, and with colder weather upon us - what are your thoughts on this trend?

Liane Jollon  00:38
It's always hard to tell at the beginning of a trend exactly where it's going. You know, we figure out a lot of this retrospectively, but what we are seeing currently is that New Mexico is experiencing a significant surge in cases. Colorado cases, on the other hand, have plateaued and even started to show a little bit of a dip. But again, when cases are in these really precarious time periods, where some regions are going up, some are going down, the weather is getting colder, everywhere kids are back in school, people are starting to mix more. You know, we really have to be careful and double down on some of our precautions if we want to be able to keep people safe, keep people out of the hospitals and keep kids in school. So I think it's too early to tell exactly what's happening here. But we do really want to encourage people to continue with precautions.

Sarah Flower  01:35
And with those high cases, Liane, generally follows an increase in hospitalizations. Right now the state of Colorado is reporting 11% of the state's ICU beds are currently available, other than sitting and waiting. What do we do to ensure our healthcare system doesn't run out of that 11% availability?

Liane Jollon  01:56
Yes, the hospitalization rate in Colorado is very concerning. We see very few ICU beds and other types of beds available across the state right now. So this is a mix of people that are hospitalized due to COVID-19, as well as the fact that life is just open so people are landing in the hospital for other unfortunate events. So with that we have very, very limited hospital capacity. And we have hospitals that are suspending precautionary care and suspending other types of care because of the fact that the resources have to go to patients that need high levels of care. The individuals who are currently in the hospital with COVID-19, are overwhelmingly unvaccinated individuals. So we do when we say it's important to have all the precautions, we are talking about the number one thing that you can do right now, to keep yourself safe, is get vaccinated. There are times that people who are vaccinated get infections. But overwhelmingly these are mild, mild, mild infections, not the types of things that are going to land you in the hospital or cause you to die. That's very much in the realm of people who are unvaccinated right now and the hospitals are filled, overfilled with individuals who have COVID-19 and need high levels of care.

Sarah Flower  03:25
It was announced last week that Pfizer has officially submitted their data to the FDA for vaccines for 5 to 11 year olds. I believe the meeting has been set up for October 26th for the FDA to examine that information. What is the turnaround time that you're expecting and has San Juan Basin Public Health prepared to vaccinate children once we get the go ahead?

Liane Jollon  03:49
We are planning for these dates. We don't know exactly what the turnaround time will be. There's high high interest in having that meeting be followed up very quickly by a CDC meeting, and then a recommendation to authorize for 5 to 11 year olds, if the data comes in and says that this is safe and effective, right? We want to go through all of the steps. And then once they go through the steps, if that information becomes available to us, we will be able to work in this community and also with just amazing providers, lots of pediatric practices in this community will step up to make sure that our 5 to 11 year olds have opportunity to be safe. Before the end of October though starting this week, we expect that Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson will also be submitting information to the FDA about boosters for individuals who have received those vaccines. So as you know what we currently have authorized in the US is boosters for Pfizer shots. That should change probably over the next week to 10 days. As the Moderna information gets reviewed first and then the Johnson & Johnson information right after that. So any of these changes in who's eligible for vaccine, San Juan Basin Public Health is preparing in the background with the local resources to make sure that as soon as the changes are authorized, we can make sure that people can get vaccinated

Sarah Flower  05:15
...and get the booster shot. I think that is a kind of a confusing thing, Liane, for the community to know who's eligible, has it been six months, who's checking those boxes to make sure that you've received that Pfizer? I think the knowledge base for the community can be a little convoluted,

Liane Jollon  05:32
I think it is. I think that this one was, unfortunately, like many things with COVID, is just really messy, and the communications around it were messy. So what happened was Pfizer submitted their information first around boosters, for individuals who were six months out from completing their Pfizer series, and ultimately the FDA made a recommendation. And then the CDC made actually a slightly different recommendation. So what came available to the public were individuals who were over 65; individuals who were in high risk professions, meaning that they have lots of opportunity to be exposed to COVID; and then individuals who are high risk for severe disease, meaning that they have a condition that should they catch COVID would be one of the people who could have a small chance of being vaccinated but still needing a higher level of care. So those were the three categories of people that were out of the gates authorized for boosters, if they had a Pfizer shot. There's also information about prior to that, people who were considered immune compromised and what they were allowed to do to get a third dose. And now the FDA is going to review Moderna, and then Johnson & Johnson in that order. So if you were to say back to me, this sounds convoluted, I couldn't agree more. It makes it really hard for those of us that are working in this field, to stay on top of communicating to really, you know, concerned residents about what's my next step. And what do I need to do to be safe, because we know the hospitals are filled. We know that people are having trouble getting the care that they need. You know, we also know that 70% of our population here in La Plata County is vaccinated across the southwest region of Colorado. We have 50-60% in counties depending on which county it is over 70% in La Plata County. So I think it's really confusing for people. We have this high Vax rate, yet our healthcare is overrun, and what should we be doing next? So I agree with you, it is tricky. It's hard to communicate. But what we're reminding people is most important thing is get fully vaccinated. Right, as soon as you're eligible, get fully vaccinated. That's the most important thing. And then the other precautions, whether you're boosting, wearing a mask indoors, maintaining six foot distance, you know, limiting your activities to other people who are vaccinated. All of those are kind of a layered approach that are going to help us stem the spread of infection that we're currently experiencing.

Sarah Flower  08:18
Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health, anything else you want to add for us today?.

Liane Jollon  08:24
Thank you once again for the opportunity. We really appreciate it.

Sarah Flower  08:27
Liane, thank you so much for your time today, and every Tuesday here on KSUT for our weekly COVID-19 update.

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