‘Very quiet on the COVID front’
Via Telluride News By Leslie Vreeland Contributing Editor
Crowds lined up for COVID testing in Telluride in March 2020, shortly after the novel coronavirus appeared. On Thursday, San Miguel County Health will host its final testing clinic, though free test kits to take home will remain available. "At the height of COVID, we had over 1,800 people hospitalized a day in Colorado," San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin said. "Today, 150 people are hospitalized across Colorado" with the virus. "We've come a long way." (Planet file photo)
The federal government will end the national COVID emergencies in May,but Congress has extended several benefits a little longer.
Medicare — which covers ages 65-and-over, the group most at risk of dying from the virus — will continue to cover oral antiviral drugs, including Paxlovid, through the end of next year. Telehealth benefits have been extended through the end of 2024, too.
One change is already taking place locally, though: today (Thursday) marks the last day San Miguel County Public Health (SMPH) will host a free NAAT — or so-called “fast PCR” — testing clinic. The change came not so much from the winding down of a federal emergency, but because of the lack of demand for in-person testing.
“It’s mostly due to the ongoing low number of people interested,” Grace Franklin, the county’s public health director, explained. “We’ve had, on average, 1-2 people attend our testing clinics over the past three months,” a time when winter visitation to Telluride was at its peak.
“Three tests a day was a big day” this winter and spring, Franklin said. “Last year we saw a slight uptick during the off-season” due to people seeking tests before travelling, “but this year (attendance) has remained low.”
In addition, Franklin added, “People who are significantly sick or want to get additional tests” for flu, RSV, “strep, mono, etc.” would need to visit a provider to figure out exactly what they have and get treated. “Both medical centers in San Miguel County,” in Telluride and Norwood, “have been able to meet the demand of respiratory illnesses this winter, so we are comfortable removing this service, moving into the summer. If things change significantly,” she added, “we are happy to reassess.”
A lack of in-person tests does not mean testing has gone away, however: free take-home rapid-antigen tests remain available at SMPH’s offices.
“We’ve seen a continuing interest in this option, as it’s ready for people whenever they need it and can be done in the comfort of the home,” Franklin said. “The State of Colorado is stopping their supply of free rapid tests at the end of this month. We’ve requested a large amount to hold us over for a while, and we’re shifting the funding for the NAAT tests to purchase rapid (antigen) tests when we run low in stock.”
The public health offices may be the only place to pick up free test kits in Telluride, going forward. The Wilkinson Public Library has not been able to obtain free test kits of late.
“We were getting boxes and boxes of them,” the library’s director, Sarah Landeryou, said. “We have not been able to get a shipment recently, but we’re trying.”
When the state shuts down shipments, “then that will be it.”
In general, “It’s been very quiet on the COVID front for months now,” Franklin added. “People are still getting sick, but there’s more understanding and autonomy” when it comes to isolating, and obtaining resources, “than there had been previously. We’re still seeing a low but ongoing interest in COVID boosters. Not everyone has gotten the bivalent booster,” which has been available since September of last year and is recommended to prevent severe disease and death from the virus.
“Some kids are aging into eligibility” for the bivalent vaccine at six months of age, “which is keeping it interesting,” Franklin said. “We’ve been getting interest from the 65-and-over crowd about a second bivalent booster. As soon as that is FDA approved, we’ll be ready to provide it. We’re currently hosting walk-in clinics for COVID vaccines every Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. If there’s a big demand, we will expand our hours to meet the need.”
TESTING IN OURAY COUNTY
NAAT/fast PCR testing will wind down in Ouray County, as well, though not as quickly as in San Miguel County: the tests will be offered through May 30. But in-person, rapid antigen testing will continue: “We’re contracted (to provide testing) through December of 2023,” Linda Tyler, the county’s COVID testing coordinator, said.
Testing takes place Mondays through Thursdays from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m., at the county’s public-health offices downtown, where free test kits are also available to take home.
“We have plenty of bivalent vaccines on-hand, and we’re preparing right now to offer booster clinics once the FDA gives the go-ahead” for ages 65-and-up and immunocompromised individuals, Tanner Kingery, the county’s public health director, said. “Once that happens, we’ll be ready to go.”
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