Coronavirus cases plummet just as new school year begins

The number of active COVID-19 cases continues to drop in San Juan County, falling from 35 on August 26 to 19 cases on September 2.

Of 19 active cases, six are in the Blanding area (16 last week), six cases are in Monticello area (six last week), three in Montezuma Creek area (nine), two in Mexican Hat area (zero) and two in the Monument Valley area (four). None are listed in La Sal or Bluff.

No additional deaths of local residents were reported this week, leaving the total at 28 deaths in the county.

Since the pandemic arrived in the area in March, 667 residents have tested positive, with 620 (93 percent) considered recovered. San Juan Public Health Director Kirk Benge says the department is very appreciative of the community for taking the risk seriously.

“We’ve seen a lot of people taking precautions, wearing masks when they can’t social distance both at work places and public places. We’re lucky out here because it’s easier to social distance for us than maybe other communities and I think we’re seeing the results in that from these numbers,” said Benge.

While the decrease in active cases is encouraging, Benge says it’s not a reason to become complacent.

“I don’t think we’re at a level yet to have herd immunity in San Juan County. I do think that we will continue to see this locally for quite some time. So I think it’s very important we try to understand who’s most vulnerable and try to protect them.”

About four percent of county residents are confirmed to have contracted the virus. However, Benge says it is estimated that one in ten cases of COVID are clinically identified nationally. This means the number of infected residents is probably higher than is reported.

Benge said that the concern remains for those who are most vulnerable to the virus.

“Most people who have serious complications with COVID have underlying health conditions and we want to continue to try and help those people. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reaffirmed that only about six percent of people who have died of COVID had no other pre-existing health concerns. The majority of deaths are in people that have pre-existing issues, such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, or other conditions.”

Benge says his office has not completed an analysis of all medical records of the 28 county residents who have died of COVID, but he says so far in their analysis, the national trend of underlying conditions has held true in San Juan County.

Taking care of the most vulnerable members of the population is the motivator behind precautions taken as the school year begins.

Benge says there isn’t a high concern that children and teens will contract the disease and be hospitalized, but that youth can spread the disease among vulnerable populations faster than it can be handled.

Local students south of Blanding are engaging in remote learning to start the year. Meanwhile students in Blanding, Monticello and La Sal are in the classroom for the first time in more than five months. 

Public health and the school district are working to minimize risk of the spread of the disease, but Benge says they won’t be able to eliminate that risk. 

“It is more important than ever that children never go to school sick...  Those children need to stay home. We encourage parents to work out a backup plan so we can ensure sick children don’t attend school.”

San Juan Record

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