Like movie blockbusters teasing their arrival, so too has COVID-19 announced its summertime return. And like big movies, the Delta variant, a mutation of the virus that has so far killed more than 607,000 Americans, there is every indication that it will be coming to a town near you and soon. In fact, public health officials say it’s already here. And, while Hollywood might say, it’s had a ‘soft opening,’ it very well could grow.
“To date,” said Pueblo County Health Department’s Sarah Joseph, “there are 21 total identified variant cases with the Delta variant (as of July 9th).” Pueblo is not alone in the outbreak of the COVID mutation. More than half of Colorado’s 64 counties have also recorded cases of the Delta variant, a strain that is not only more contagious but more easily contracted. The Centers for Disease Control say it can enter a new victim in as quick as five to ten seconds of exposure.
When COVID was in full attack mode in 2020, it burned like a wildfire across the country claiming thousands of lives each week. Like everywhere else, Pueblo County was in its path. The county, with a population of approximately 170,000, reported just under 20,000 diagnosed cases of the virus and 421 deaths for the year.
In the winter of 2020, Joseph said, “Pueblo was the state’s hotspot.” The county’s numbers jumped exponentially from a September 2020 count of 224 cases to more than 6,300 two months later.
In an effort to curb and control the virus, the Army and FEMA set up a vaccination site at the State Fairgrounds to make available vaccines. The program provided both screenings for the virus as well as shots for almost anyone who showed up. The operation even included mobile units where people could even remain on buses arriving on site, keep their seats and get a shot. While the dual operation was deemed successful, the county’s total numbers still fall well short of President Biden’s goal of a 70 percent national vaccine rate. The health department’s latest figures show that only 77,000 people in the county, or 53 percent, are vaccinated.
As of June 21st, the most recent data shared by the county, there has been only one death attributed to the Delta variant of the virus. In an email shared by Joseph, of the first nine people with the variant, two were fully vaccinated but not hospitalized; two were unvaccinated but not hospitalized; five were unvaccinated but hospitalized.
While there is no guarantee that a vaccination will prevent contraction of the Delta variant, the CDC believes that chances for contraction shrink dramatically with vaccinations. But despite the urgency of this warning, Pueblo’s own Congressional representative, Lauren Boebert, has repeatedly scorned the agency’s advice, going so far as to intimate avoiding vaccination altogether. “The easiest way to make the Delta variant go away,” she recently tweeted, “is to turn off CNN. And vote Republican.”
Currently, like Pueblo County, Boebert’s own county, Garfield, along with much of her district, is now experiencing a surge in the Delta variant. Boebert has since removed her tweet but has not stopped with her criticism of the President’s plan to get shots into arms of Americans and going so far as to label his urgings , ‘Nazis with needles.’
Boebert’s vaccination advice along with her understanding of the virus, said the Colorado Department of Health, goes contrary to the data. It says that vaccinations with any of the three vaccines---Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson---create an 83-88 percent safeguard against the Delta variant. Those who have avoided the vaccine, many for religious or political reasons, are most vulnerable for contracting the new strain.
State health officials say it may be easy to adopt a summertime complacency of the virus in any and all of its permutations. But summer is not endless and when winter sets in, it may be a whole new ballgame. And, as we have learned, everywhere that the virus lands, it has the homefield advantage, especially when its opponent is the unvaccinated.