The United States has just reached a dreadful milestone: more than half a million people dead from the coronavirus. And yet Coloradans can feel good about living where they do; our state has managed the pandemic better than many others.
For example, as of Feb. 23, New Jersey has the highest mortality rate from COVID-19, while Colorado currently ranks 40th. Unlike many states that saw a spike in cases after the Christmas holidays, Colorado did not. The Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Team thinks that’s because citizens took the governor’s travel restrictions and other proactive measures seriously.
Dr. John Douglas Jr., executive director of the Tri-County Health Department on the Front Range, said the mask mandate implemented in July was “probably the single most striking thing that we did as a state.”
It should be noted that the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council has also put numerous guidelines into place under its Declaration of Emergency.
Additionally, comparatively speaking, the Centennial State’s vaccination program is going well – including in far-flung Montezuma County.
The two main entities administering vaccines in Cortez are the Montezuma County Public Health Department and Southwest Health System Pharmacy.
Ute Mountain Ute tribal and community members and employees are getting vaccinated at the Indian Health System clinic in Towaoc. On Feb. 17, Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart posted on the Weenuche Smoke Signals Facebook page that the IHS had already vaccinated about 1,253 people out of 2,300.
Axis Health System – Cortez Integrated Care is vaccinating some of its regular patients, too, as are retail pharmacies like City Market, Safeway and Walgreens.
According to Karen Dickson, Montezuma County public health emergency manager, the preferred way to get on the county’s COVID-19 vaccine waiting list is to go through the department’s web page. Those without internet access can call the main public health number, 565-3056.
Residents can get on Southwest Health System’s waiting list by going to www.swhealth.org/covid-19info or by calling 564-2201. They can be vaccinated at Southwest Memorial Hospital whether or not they’ve seen a doctor in that system. Also, people will soon be able to schedule their own appointments online.
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe members and employees need to call the COVID-19 Hotline, 560-3494, to make an appointment.
Because there is no single waiting list for COVID-19 vaccines, MCPHD and Southwest Health System coordinate to use all their doses.
“If we get a cancellation we will ask for patients on MCPHD’s list so we can clear them out and get them vaccinated,” said Marc Meyer, director of pharmacy at Southwest Health System.
One way to slow the spread of coronavirus is to vaccinate the most vulnerable first: frontline workers with considerable exposure, people with underlying medical conditions and older adults.
So the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment established several phases of vaccine eligibility based on this prioritization.
“A person can get on the waiting list anytime. but won’t get called until it’s their turn,” Meyer explained. We are now in Phase 1B.2, designated for PK-12 educators and staff, child care workers and Coloradans age 65-69.
The federal government distributes doses according to each state’s population. Local clinics get vaccines into arms as soon as they arrive, usually once a week. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are the two main types used thus far, but Meyer expects the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be approved by early March.
Also, Pfizer announced Feb. 19 that its vaccine can be kept at standard freezer temperatures rather than the ultra-cold temperatures originally thought necessary.
The distribution process is very complicated and constantly changing. “This is all new – it’s never been done before,” Dickson pointed out. “We’re building the plane as we fly it.”
Although Southwest Health System had trouble getting vaccines in 2020 and early 2021, Meyer said there’s been a steady flow since the Biden Administration took office.
“In the past month, we’ve received everything we asked for. We’ve already vaccinated everyone over 65 who wanted one.” He also credits Gov. Jared Polis with ensuring that every county gets adequate doses.
So far, about 8,200 people have been vaccinated in Montezuma County, 31% of the population.
The county is in Level Yellow on the CDPHE-created status dial. This is a level of “concern” but not as serious as the “high risk” Level Orange in which some other counties are finding themselves,
We can thank our lucky stars, and good government, for light at the end of this tunnel.
Erin McKay lives in the Cortez area.