2021 in Review: The Virus remains deadly

COVID-19 gave Moffat County a six-month reprieve in early 2021, but it came back with a vengeance in the second half of the year

Memorial Regional Health's sign welcomes visitors to Craig's hospital.
Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press

In early 2022, Craig and the rest of the world will experience the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, we had become comfortable with the new normal.

As the pandemic continued, Craig learned how to navigate public health concerns while transitioning into a post-lockdown community.

Widespread vaccination begins

By January of 2021, distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine became more accessible to immunocompromised communities, and the general public was not far behind. By Jan. 18, Moffat County reported it had vaccinated 1,174 people between its three primary medical providers: Memorial Regional Health, Moffat County Public Health and Northwest Colorado Health.

According to a report from Public Health from January, MRH had administered 611 vaccines, Public Health had administered 408 vaccines, and Northwest Colorado Health had administered 156 vaccines. The majority of vaccines administered have been to those who were over the age of 70. By the end of March, vaccine appointments were open to anyone over the age of 16.

Statewide health mandates ease

In April, Gov. Jared Polis lifted the mask mandate in counties under level-green restrictions on Colorado’s coronavirus dial. Counties were to wear masks only in K-12 schools, child care centers, indoor children’s camps, public-facing state government facilities, congregate care facilities, and prisons and jails. Masks were required in healthcare settings — including hospitals, urgent-care centers and doctors’ offices — as well as at personal-services businesses, like hair and nail salons.

People who live in counties that are in levels blue, yellow, orange, red or purple had to wear masks only when they are gathering with 10 or more unrelated, unvaccinated people in indoor public settings. At the time, Moffat County was considered green, which meant mask regulations eased.

The summer surge

With positivity rates climbing quickly as a result of the onset of the Delta variant, cases in the county rose exponentially and caused a strain on local health infrastructure. By June 9, Craig had its first COVID-19 death since early January — after about six months of zero deaths.

By the end of the month, MRH was dealing with its most patients in the COVID unit since December of 2020. In mid-July, Moffat County experienced its youngest death from the virus, a young person in his or her 20s. By the end of that month, three more community members died within a week of each other.

Getting through the new year

Much like the holiday season of 2020, doctors and public health officials have warned of a post-Christmas surge as a result of traveling and family gatherings. As the year draws to a close, across the country, numbers of those infected with COVID-19 are rising significantly.

Much of that is likely due to the Omicron variant. Though symptoms of Omicron appear to be less severe than Delta, it’s still highly contagious and has been shown to break through to infect patients that have two vaccine doses, though boosted individuals are at much lower risk. Right now, local health experts are hoping to keep the spread low in order to protect hospital capacity.

In October, vaccination rates among adults finally surpassed 50% in Moffat County, adding a protective layer against hospital overflow in the new year. That rate has not moved much since October. Vaccines are now available for children as young as 5 years old, but those rates in Moffat County are still very low.

After some confusion about federal vaccine requirements for hospital workers, Memorial Regional Hospital will continue with its 100% vaccinated or exempted requirement for employees. Hospital employees are required to receive the vaccine by Medicare and Medicaid, and with over 60% of the hospital’s revenue coming from those two offices, interim CEO Jennifer Riley told the Craig Press in December that enforcing the mandate is what’s best for the hospital and the community.

While statistic gathering have changed somewhat over the last year — relative to counts that include people who died with COVID-19 or definitively due to COVID-19 — current statistics indicate that as many as half or more of the 50 people listed by Moffat County Public Health who died from the virus in the county did so since June, 2021.

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