‘We’re Considering This An Emergency’: COVID Delta Variant Continues To Rise In Mesa County

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Pine Gulch fire, one of the largest wildfires ever recorded in Colorado, is burning just over the nearby mesas on the edge of town, but life on Main Street in Grand Junction goes on.

Mesa County released a public health alert today warning residents of widespread transmission of a highly contagious COVID-19 variant, which was first discovered in India. 

“It's a new message to the people that have chosen not to wear masks or to get vaccinated, more so now than ever, we need to step up as a community and fight this thing,” said Jeff Kuhr, executive director of Mesa County Public Health.

The county is asking people who have symptoms of any kind to avoid work, school, child care and social gatherings, even if they are vaccinated. 

As of Tuesday, the county had 242 cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 6.4 percent. Hospitals in the county are crowded in part because of 40 COVID-19 cases but also due to people who put off health care during the pandemic or have landed in the hospital for the usual trauma event like a car accident. Over the last two weeks, the county has seen 138 infections in people aged 10 to 19 and another 50 cases in children 9 years old and younger. For more than a month, cases have been rising in the county. 

“We're considering this an emergency,” Kuhr said. “Our case count is driven by this widespread community transmission of the Delta variant in Mesa County.”

The variant, also known as B.1.617.2, is spreading also rapidly in the United Kingdom, NPR reports. It’s now responsible for more than 60 percent of infections there and is causing surges in some parts of England. 

"We cannot let that happen in the United States," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a White House COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday. 

Fauci said the variant is more contagious and may also cause more severe disease and a higher risk of hospitalization. The best defense is vaccination. Studies have shown the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective against the variant.

Mesa County was the first in the state to detect the Delta variant. What started as five cases quickly ballooned to 125 reported cases. But the actual number could be much higher since the detection was based on random sampling.

The vaccination rate in the county has hovered around 38 percent for people who are fully vaccinated and 43 percent for people who have received at least one shot. 

“I've always said, sure, it's your choice to get vaccinated, but protecting your community has to be all of us working together,” Kuhr said. “Now more than ever.”