‘We seem to be in the decline phase’: Colorado’s top doctor talks BA.5 surge and more with anchor Katie Pelton

KKTV 11 News at Noon (Recurring)
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 6:06 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Experts say we appear to be on the back side of the most recent surge in COVID cases in Colorado and expressed guarded optimism going into this new school year.

11 News anchor Katie Pelton sat down with the state’s top doctor, Eric France with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, for more on why Colorado has been well-positioned to weather the BA.5 sub-variant, what parents need to know going into this fall, when we could see our next variant, as well as a few questions on the growing monkeypox outbreak. Below is the full Q&A.

KATIE PELTON: HOSPITALIZATIONS HAVE REMAINED LOW IN COLORADO THROUGHOUT THE LATEST OMICRON SURGE. HEALTH EXPERTS TELL ME THAT’S BECAUSE OF VACCINATIONS, PREVIOUS INFECTIONS, AND ALSO, EASY ACCESS TO COVID TREATMENTS HERE IN OUR STATE. I’M TALKING EXCLUSIVELY TO WITH THE STATE’S TOP DOCTOR ABOUT NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN TREATMENTS AND CARE.

FIRST OF ALL, CAN YOU GIVE US AN UPDATE ON WHERE COVID CASES STAND HERE IN COLORADO?

Dr. Eric France: “Here in Colorado, we seem to be in the decline phase, so we likely peaked with BA.5 variant that’s been in our state over the last number of months. There’s still a fair bit of COVID disease out there, and so the probability of becoming exposed is still there for the next month or so, so it’s important to get vaccinated, and if you do get sick, to consider one of the many treatments we now have now available in our state.”

THE BA.5 SUB-VARIANT HAS REALLY BEEN SURGING THIS SUMMER. I’VE HEARD FROM FOLKS WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN SICK WHO GOT SICK THIS TIME AROUND. HOWEVER, THE STATE SAYS HOSPITALIZATIONS HAVE REMAINED LOW. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY THAT IS?

“There’s probably a number of factors involved. It’s true BA.5 is more infectious, and so more people are getting ick because of it. At the same time, as you said, hospitalizations have been flat and now even declining. We are below 300 people in the hospital, and of course, vaccinations prevent people from being hospitalized, and better access to treatments will also reduce hospitalizations, so I think it’s a combination of those that have us where we are today, which is persistent COVID for now, still in Colorado with BA.5, but lower hospitalization rates, so people, when they are sick, are sick for three to five days and then start getting better. So, let’s hope it stays that way.”

DR. FRANCE, I FIND IT VERY INTERESTING: THE STATE HEALTH DEPARTMENT SAID THE STATE OF COLORADO GIVES OUT MORE COVID TREATMENTS PER WEEK THAN THE NATIONAL AVERAGE. THAT SOUNDS PRETTY IMPRESSIVE. CAN YOU EXPLAIN?

“I think the doctors and people of Colorado have been hearing for some time now that effective treatments are important. My desire would be that if you test positive, you have COIVID, the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘I should check to see if I can get treated, and if I can, I should start today.’ Early treatment can reduce hospitalization risk by almost 90 percent. So why wouldn’t you want to get a treatment if you qualify for it? The treatments themselves are widely available; doctors know where to send people with a prescriptions; pharmacists can prescribe them; new telehealth options are available, so it’s easy to get right on your computer and speak to a nurse or physician and get your prescription. So because of all that easy access, more people are getting treated, and that reduces hospitalizations.”

SO IF YOU DO NEED A PRESCRIPTION, GO TO YOUR DOCTOR, USE TELEHEATH. I’M ALSO WONDERING, I KNOW THESE TREATMENTS ARE REALLY FOR KIDS WHO ARE 12 AND OLDER AND FOR ADULTS. DO YOU KNOW IF RESEARCHERS ARE WORKING ON A TREATMENT FOR YOUNG CHILDREN WHO WOULD BE ABLE TO TAKE IT IF THEY GOT COVID.

“You know what, I would imagine they’re working with the current treatments we have and testing them out on kids under 12. For these treatments, we focus particularly on people with certain conditions that put them at higher risk for hospitalizations, and these are rather common conditions, so if you’re overweight -- unfortunately, 2 out of every 3 Coloradans is overweight -- if you’re a smoker, if you’re 60 and older, if you have diseases such as asthma and diabetes, these are all things that put you at higher risk of being hospitalized and for which a treatment would be warranted. I know that we’ll be thinking the same and working on the same for children in the near future.”

SPEAKING OF KIDS, I’VE BEEN SEEING A LOT OF SURVEYS LATELY SAYING SOME PARENTS ARE MORE HESITANT TO GET THEIR CHILDREN VACCINATED FOR THE YOUNGEST AGE GROUP THAT WAS JUST APPROVED, THOSE 5 AND UNDER. I’M JUST WONDERING, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THOSE PARENTS, AND WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

“I would say to those parents as a pediatrician that it’s important to protect your children from COVID, and in particular, from those events that lead to hospitalization or serious complications for children with COVID, and vaccines are the best way to do that. I do know, too, that when a new vaccine is offered to parents, historically there is a group of parents ready to jump on board right away, another group that wants to speak to their provider and get questions but then are willing to be vaccinated, and another group that wants to see how it goes with their friends and other people they know before they choose to be vaccinated, and another very small group that just don’t want the vaccine. So this vaccine for children is going out in the same way and we’re seeing the same thing happen here. There’s some slow uptake for certain families, but for many, it’s a Godsend and they’re happy to get their families vaccinated.”

I WAS GOING TO SAY, I REMEMBER YOU TALKING ABOUT THAT SAME THEME WHEN VACCINES WERE FIRST APPROVED FOR ADULTS, EVEN, SO INTERESTING YOU’RE STILL KIND OF SEEING THAT SAME THING HAPPEN. RIGHT NOW, KIDS ARE GETTING READY TO HEAD BACK TO SCHOOL IF THEY HAVEN’T ALREADY. ARE YOU EXPECTING A SURGE IN CASES WHEN EVERYONE RETURNS FROM SUMMER VACATION, AND IS THERE ANYTHING PARENTS CAN DO TO HELP?

“Well, again, if you have the opportunity to have your children vaccinated, that’s certainly what I would recommend first and foremost. I would say that we seem to be on the downhill slide decrease of COVID cases, and our modeling suggests that by September, cases will continue to go down. So when we first get back into school, I doubt we’ll see any new spike. We are always keeping our eyes open for new variants, which might arrive in October, November and begin to increase cases, but for the first few months of the school year, I don’t think we’ll see much of a spike in cases.

INTERESTING, YOU THINK THE SPIKE WOULD BE MORE IN THE FALL AREA, OCTOBER OR NOVEMBER. WHY IS THAT?

“It’s hard to predict, because whatever spike might occur will be due to a new variant, and we’re not sure where it is or when it might show up. Will it appear in Europe later this fall and then make its way here? We really don’t see anything that has us worried about what the horizon might bring, so in that sense, I think in short term, August, September, October, we’ll see this continued decline in cases as the BA.5 virus continues to spread but there are fewer people who are still eligible or who could potentially be ill, so I think for the most part, I think the cases the first few months will continue to go down.”

WHEN DO YOU THINK MOST ADULTS WILL BE ELIGIBLE FOR THEIR NEXT BOOSTER?

“I’ve heard as early as September. I imagine it would be October or November, but we’re still waiting to see, and we’re very excited to make them available for the people of Colorado.”

WHILE I HAVE YOU, DOCTOR, THE U.S. HAS JUST DECLARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY FOR MONKEYPOX. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT DECISION? ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT IT HERE IN COLORADO, AND HOW IS COLORADO HANDLING THE DISEASE?

“Well, monkeypox is certainly growing and spreading, and it has an upward curve to it right now when you look at cases in the United States and in Colorado and the world, really. Having this declaration will likely bring new resources and might speed up some of the development of the vaccine, so I think that’s all good news for us in Colorado. We’ve been doing our part to get the word out, that high-risk groups understand their risk, that we get people vaccinated with the doses that we have, and I believe that this announcement will just provide us more resources and make is more successful at this work.”

YOU’RE NOT WORRIED ABOUT MONKEYPOX BEING AS WIDESPREAD AS WE HAVE SEEN WITH COVID, ARE YOU?

“It’s a different virus. It doesn’t spread by air like the COVID virus does; it’s really a close contact spread of the pustules that spread it, so it’s going to be a slower spread. I would imagine over time we’ll see more of it spread across our populations, but time will tell. In the meantime, if you’re in a high-risk group, if you’re in the community that’s seeing this transmit -- that is particularly men who have sex with men -- then certainly, being careful and getting vaccinated when you can is important.”

If you want more information on the latest COVID cases in Colorado, available treatments, and where you can get a vaccine, visit our Find It page.

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