Larimer County hopes to reach herd immunity for COVID-19 by Memorial Day
Larimer County hopes to reach herd immunity by the end of May, but health officials are still concerned about rising COVID-19 cases.
By May 25, county health officials hope to have 65% of Larimer County residents age 16 and up vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Larimer County Public Health Director Tom Gonzales told county commissioners Tuesday.
With that percent of the population vaccinated in addition to the approximately 25% of residents health officials believe had COVID-19 and still have natural immunity, Gonzales said the county "could get to herd immunity" by Memorial Day weekend.
"That means Memorial (Day) weekend could be a lot different," Gonzales said.
Health officials have previously said 70% of the population would need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
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But reaching herd immunity is still on the other side of challenges like limited vaccine supply and rising cases in Larimer County, Gonzales warned during a presentation to county commissioners.
The county's 7-day case rate per 100,000 residents has almost doubled over the last three weeks, Gonzales said, and the percentage of positive tests over the last two weeks has risen above 6%.
"The virus is out there," Gonzales said. "The virus is active ... and transmission is very high."
Hospitalization data has lagged behind case-rate data throughout the pandemic, so it's unclear how or if the rising cases will impact hospitalizations, Gonzales said. As of Tuesday, hospitalizations weren't rising with the case rate, and Gonzales said much of that can be attributed to the success of the vaccines.
The case rate has dropped for residents age 60 and older now that more than 50% of residents in those age groups have received at least one vaccine, Gonzales said.
County health officials are concerned about a spike in cases for those age 50-59, and only 40% of that age group has received at least one dose of the vaccine, Gonzales said. Another "wildly important goal" for the county will be to get 50% of that age group vaccinated by Friday — that number was 40% on Tuesday.
"As soon as we get 50% (of an age group vaccinated), it starts dropping, and it drops significantly," Gonzales said regarding case rates. Those age 50 and older are also the people more likely to be hospitalized at this point in the pandemic.
Cases are rising particularly in residents age 18-30, with the biggest increase in those ages 25-30, largely due to indoor and unmasked gatherings, Gonzales said. As the weather warms, Gonzales encouraged people to socialize outside while maintaining social distance as much as possible because the virus is less transmissible in open-air and outdoor environments.
Cases in children ages 11-17 have also spiked as in-person learning continues, and Gonzales reminded families to make sure they're following quarantine instructions. While children are often asymptomatic, they can still spread the virus to others, he said.
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Health department spokesperson Kori Wilford said the county is reviewing the current mask order to determine if any changes need to be made, but they do plan to extend it until at least the end of the school year.
Vaccine eligibility opened to all Coloradans age 16 and older on Friday. Gonzales said vaccine supply to the county and its providers as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccine site at The Ranch in Loveland will allow for about 30,000 vaccine doses to be administered in Larimer County this week.
People sick with COVID-19 can't get a vaccine, Gonzales said, so the more people who test positive for the coronavirus before getting the vaccine, the longer the community will have to wait for herd immunity.
"The problem is that we have these two lanes merging here, and we need to get our case rate down and vaccinations up so that by May 25 this community can go back to some normalcy," Gonzales said.
People who test positive for COVID-19 are believed to have some natural immunity to the virus for about 90 days, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because experts still aren't sure how long that immunity lasts, the CDC still recommends people who have had COVID-19 get vaccinated.
Sady Swanson covers public safety, criminal justice, Larimer County government and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.