The Long Haul

We’re the big county to the left of the text, looking vaguely like a P.

Monday I listened to the county public health director on community radio. Tuesday I attended the revival of the county’s business Zooms. Yesterday one of my several friends named Karen told me she had returned to volunteer work at our newly re-opened county call center. Corona is walking among us.

In truth, she never left us, even though all of us, including the county, wanted to be done with her. She never stopped dating at least one person a day. But now she’s amped up her game, and after a three-fold increase in local cases for two straight weeks, county personnel have sighed and staggered to their feet for yet another round, sort of.

Information still feels rather vague, even after listening to two presentations this week. My request for restoration of the county’s dashboard was shot down with the reasonable yet irritating response that the dashboard is more labor intensive than the county has time or money for. My complaint that the state’s data is hard to find and difficult to extrapolate was acknowledged, and it was suggested that I try the CDC’s website.

So I did that, and while data is easy to access by county and far more plentiful than one might imagine, the CDC only provides ranges, telling me Gunnison County has between 10 and 50 newly-diagnosed cases. The problem with that is that the county wasn’t too worried about 10 new cases per week, but 35 cases has it concerned enough to start making public appearances and restoring the call center.

On both Monday and Tuesday county officials emphasized they are watching trends rather than numbers, and two weeks isn’t long enough to decide if this is an upward trend, but since they have offered no viable mechanism for us layfolk to access weekly numbers, we’re pretty much stuck relying on public appearances by county personnel.

I’m still not clear, two meetings and 18 months later, about the counts. I thought earlier case counts were strictly limited to full-time county residents, even if someone else went to county testing and emerged positive. I thought those numbers were passed along to the person’s county of origin. But our mid-30s cases appear to include full-time and part-time residents, along with visitors.

Our public health director hasn’t identified any areas of outbreak, nor are current cases concentrated by age. Positives have been found in a two-month-old and an 80-year-old, and a broad spectrum of ages in between. The Unvaccinated are accounting for about 83-85 percent of the cases, which means as many as 17 percent of the positives belong to the Vaccinated. I gather some of those positives must have been found through contract tracing, because The Vaccinated often don’t even know they’re infected, while the Unvaccinated have landed in the hospital and even been transferred to Montrose for more advanced care.

These days, testing is hard to come by here in Gunnison County. You can pay to be tested at a grocery store (with a pharmacy) in Crested Butte — Karen thought they were still charging $99 — or at the two urgent care clinics in Gunnison for well over $100.

There’s free testing at the hospital, but it is only available for 45 minutes daily for symptomatic people. A hospital person said Tuesday on the Zoom that they’re looking to hire three part-time people to ramp up testing for three hours each day Monday through Friday. Until then that leaves home testing, but the public health director put accuracy of a one-time use of the Binax test at about 40 percent. I don’t understand how this works, but if you use that test on a regular basis, say weekly, then accuracy goes up to 60 percent.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the City of Houston has a robust wastewater testing program, which also gives the city an idea of the extent of asymptomatic cases, because everyone with the virus excretes it into the sewers. I know Gunnison experimented with wastewater testing early in the pandemic; now it feels like it would be helpful to know if we have a high incidence of asymptomatic virus in our midst.

Our public health director keeps lauding our 70 percent fully vaccinated rate, which is nothing to sneeze at, but the CDC with all its county-level charts put us a few percentage points below that — and they’re now saying it might take 80, even 90, percent to reach herd immunity. And of course, there are all our visitors, of particular note since the only commonality among positive cases local public health can find is travel.

Yesterday on CBS This Morning, Dr. David Agus was addressing the uptick in pediatric cases when he concluded his segment by noting, with great assurance, that the delta variant will burn itself out in September. It was the end of his segment, and he didn’t expound on this, nor did anyone ask him to explain, so I turned to the internet, where everything you can find about the virus is completely factual.

I landed on WebMD, which I like to think is generally fairly factual, maybe not as reliable as Facebook but it might do in a pinch, and on Aug. 4 the site issued an article on this very subject: “Will the Delta Variant Peak and Then Burn Out?” [I was going to provide a link but, you know, WordPress.]

WebMD noted this appears to have been the case in both India and the United Kingdom, although daily cases are still in the tens of thousands in India and thousands in Britain, so “burned out” may still apply more to the people combatting the disease than Corona herself, but cases have lessened significantly.

So that could happen here too, but as WebMd noted, “Like other pandemic predictions, these are all over the board.” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former director of the Food and Drug Administration, predicted that yesterday, Aug. 11, would be the turning point. I’m no doctor, but I’m going to disagree with him on that.

He’s not the only one saying mid-August, although he might be the only one offering a specific date, and others saying this appear to be hedging their bets into mid-September, which is as broad a range as 10 county cases per week (not worrisome) to 50 (problematic). Others went as late as October, and one doctor from Johns Hopkins said that since we’re already underestimating the counts, it could go on indefinitely.

There are measures we could all take, and some of us have, to mitigate this, but since the true information on Facebook suggests it’s your patriotic duty to remain unvaccinated, and the cool governor thing to do is put your constituents in obvious harm’s way, I don’t see us all mitigating any time soon. (Makes you feel real optimistic about a global coming-together to solve that warming thing, eh?)

Our public health director, who received a large number of threats up to and including death last year, has no appetite for any sort of mandate, barely even recommendations, so it appears that Gunnison County will keep limping along with the rest of the country, wearisome hosts to Corona, who is having so much fun she is loathe to leave.

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