The COVID-19 Pandemic: Travels in the SouthwestJun 7, 2021
I have been on vacation this week traveling through southwestern Colorado and New Mexico, gaining a picture of pandemic behavior as vaccination drives the epidemic curve down. As a quick summary, travelers behave as though the pandemic has ended, but not everywhere. Colorado and New Mexico are a patchwork of orders and mask requirements. Some stores and restaurants ask those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask while others provide no guidance. One store in Durango requires masks and would not allow my wife to try on an overblouse, but graciously accepts returns. Masks are required for riders on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and also within the store where tickets are sold. Why? Because the CDC still requires masks on trains. Two potential passengers objected to the requirement but had no choice.
How do we know who is vaccinated? At the moment, people seem comfortable asking although veracity of self-reporting is uncontested. In a gas station, I saw a woman wearing a chain around her neck with a tag that visibly proclaimed: “I am vaccinated.” On vacation at the moment, I am steering clear of the controversy of “vaccine passports.”
The Colorado School of Public Health and its three partner universities are preparing for fall returns to campus. At CU Anschutz, vaccination will be required with exceptions for medical or religious reasons. At Colorado State University, the requirements are stated as: “CSU will require COVID-19 vaccines for all students, faculty, and staff for the Fall 2021 semester, conditioned upon full approval of one or more vaccines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” The University of Northern Colorado’s requirements are the same. Across the three campuses, expectations are comparable, although full details remain to be worked out. Undoubtedly, there will be questions and comments about the policies, but my position is that those in public health will appreciate the rationale for a policy requiring vaccination. We have all encountered requirements for other vaccinations, so why are COVID-19 vaccinations seen differently? COVID-19 vaccination is the key to regaining the lost intimacy of direct contact.
On this vacation, we spent a day at Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, perhaps my fourth visit to this remarkable site. A centerpiece of Ancestral Puebloan culture (or the “old ones,” also known as the Anasazi), the site was mysteriously and seemingly rapidly abandoned about a 1,000 years ago. Explanations abound and center around changes in weather and deforestation. My own reading has left me puzzled as the experts debate. Relevant to today is the impact of man on the environment in unsustainable ways.
Colorado’s epidemic curve is again meandering downward with just over 400 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19. As a reminder, last summer’s low was 130 and the target is zero. We are not there yet.
Get vaccinated so that we can be together in the fall.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health