Tri-County Health director encourages residents to get vaccinated at Arapahoe County virtual town hall

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AURORA | As COVID-19 rates increase across the region, residents should get vaccinated and wear masks in indoor settings to protect themselves, Tri-County Health Department director Dr. John Douglas said at an Arapahoe County telephone town hall Thursday night.

Douglas provided an update on the state of the pandemic in the county and then answered questions from callers. He acknowledged that after 18 months, most people are tired of having to continue worrying about the virus.

“I think we’re all just deeply weary,” he said.

Douglas said that the delta variant of the virus is responsible for an increase in caution from public health officials over the past several weeks. The variant is at least twice as transmissible as the original strain of COVID-19 and may cause worse symptoms in adults, he said.

The good news is that the vaccines appear to work “very effectively” against the delta variant, he said. They are about 85-90% effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19 and death, and 75% effective at preventing minor cases.

In Arapahoe County, 67% of the population is currently fully vaccinated.

The reason that health officials are once again encouraging more mask wearing is because it appears that people who are vaccinated but contract the delta variant can transmit it to other people, Douglas said. He acknowledged that many people felt “blindsided” by the change in recommendations.

The health department is now strongly recommending masks in schools due to the fact that the delta variant is more transmissible and children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Douglas said he was disappointed that two of the three counties under the department’s jurisdiction have opted out of a mask mandate it imposed for students under 12 in schools.

If too many students become sick at one time, classrooms may need to switch to online learning while students quarantine, Douglas cautioned. So far, there have been 38 outbreaks in schools in the three counties since the start of the new year.

“Our big rationale is keeping kids in school,” he said about the mask mandate.

Several callers asked questions about whether they still needed to get a flu vaccine. Douglas urged residents to get a flu shot this fall, and said that it does not interact negatively with the COVID-19 vaccine. Both vaccines can be administered at the same time, he said, but it may be better to space them out a week or two because they can both cause arm soreness.

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