Larimer County public health officials issued a public order Friday requiring masks in any indoor public spaces effective Wednesday at noon.
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A press release sent by the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment said that the order will remain in place until the county has met four metrics for 21 consecutive days:
- Less than 65 COVID-19 patients in Larimer County’s hospital system (currently 91).
- Intensive Care Unit utilization below 90% of customary levels (currently 105%).
- The county’s seven-day case rate per 100,000 at less than 300 (currently 274).
- The county’s 7-day positivity rate below 10% (currently 8.4%).
“Larimer County hospitals are being overburdened and we cannot allow this to continue indefinitely,” Larimer County Public Health Director Tom Gonzales said in the press release. “Our hospitals need relief so they can swiftly and adequately treat all urgent medical needs in our community. Vaccination is the best way out of this pandemic, but 35% of Larimer County’s population remains unvaccinated against COVID-19. Universal mask-wearing is the next best prevention tool we have to reduce the strain on our hospitals.”
“I was very hopeful that our vaccine uptake would be at a higher uptake level than it is now,” Gonzales told the Reporter-Herald on Friday. “I was hopeful that some of the federal policies were going to encourage more vaccine uptake, but unfortunately we’re only seeing 110 first shots per day. At that rate it will take us five months to get to 80% vaccination status. And that’s just too long. Our hospitals really cannot survive waiting that long.”
The county and the rest of the country saw falling COVID-19 rates earlier this year, only to see them roar back with the mutation of a new, more infectious variant of the virus, referred to as the delta variant. Intensive care units have been near or above capacity for four weeks, according to county data, and has gone as high as 110%.
County health officials worried this week that this winter could see even greater caseloads for the virus as people continue to go out in public, especially with the coming flu season and higher rates of hospitalizations unrelated to COVID-19 than were seen last winter. ICU utilization and hospitalizations are the two biggest issues facing the county, according to Gonzales.
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“Our hospitals and emergency rooms continue to operate with a high volume of patients both COVID and non-COVID,” Margo Karsten, Banner Health’s president for the western region, said in the release. “Last year when we all masked and practiced social distancing, there were far fewer flu and RSV cases, which lessened the burden on hospitals and allowed us to get a handle on the pandemic. To put us back in a good position to provide the care everyone needs, we support steps to have community members adopt good health practices and reduce the spread of these respiratory illnesses.”
Organizations that choose to mandate vaccines for staff, patrons and guests can apply for exemption to the new order. For approval, they must have a written policy requiring proof of vaccination for anyone entering indoor areas, post signs at entrances, and comply with inspections.