As Colorado’s vaccination rates increase and mask restrictions ease, we have had many questions about when clients can come inside the clinic with their pet. Unfortunately, our immediate reply is “not yet.” Let us explain.
Tracking Throughout the Pandemic
Before the COVID-19 virus made national news in the winter of 2020, it was on our radar. Veterinary medicine has seen many epidemics in herd animals and pets. Some of you may remember the Parvo outbreaks in the late 1970s or, more recently, H1N1 (swine flu) that crossed from swine to humans in 2009. In 2020, as a profession, we were watching, preparing and swiftly enacting measures to keep both human, livestock, and pet populations safe. This included increased bio-security measures both within each facility and with human interactions, i.e. curbside service.
We regularly track leading COVID-19 indicators down to the county and city. Currently, the highest case numbers are in populations aged 20-59, with 68% of all cases in Colorado falling into this age group, and 22% falling into the 20-29 age group. While younger populations contracting COVID-19 leads to less hospitalizations and death, it still has our state hospitalization and infection rates far above where they were last summer.
Current Conditions and Considerations
While case numbers and hospitalization have seen a steady nine-day decline, CDPHE has identified all four variant strains in the state, three of which are in Jefferson County. These are the same variants that have caused significant closures and loss of life in Britain, Brazil, and India. In Colorado and the U.S., there is a race to get vaccines in arms and stop the virus before variants spread.
To achieve herd immunity, at least 80-95% of a population must be vaccinated. As of May 5 in Colorado, we have about 47% vaccinated with a single dose and 31% fully vaccinated. At Harmony, we have roughly 85% of our staff fully vaccinated with 90% coming by the end of May. We have two employees who cannot be vaccinated at this time. We also have several high-risk individuals who are immune-compromised and who, even if vaccinated, could end up in the hospital should they contract COVID-19. Our veterinarians, while vaccinated, must stay healthy to care for your pets.
Although not ideal for anyone, curbside service has kept everyone safe. The highest risk factor for the spread of COVID-19 is close, prolonged contact within an indoor setting. When we add a veterinarian, a veterinary nurse and one client in an exam room, we exceed the safe social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC.
Because of our over-abundance of caution, we have been able to remain open throughout 2020 to serve your pet’s health needs. We are proud of this achievement, especially considering that several area hospitals have had to shut down for a one-month period to eliminate COVID-19 in their own staffs and facilities.
We continue to track key indicators and would like to see hospitalization rates significantly lower – and vaccination rates significantly higher – before our medical team will consider it is safe to bring clients inside the exam room. Hopefully, with the continued rise in vaccination numbers, this will be sooner than later.
End-of-life appointments have always been, and will continue to be, the exception to the rule in this pandemic. We utilize a health status questionnaire, enhanced air filtration, and strict cleaning protocols should your pet need our assistance during this time. We know the value of being with your best friend at his or her time to pass. It is a great act of compassion, and we encourage you to talk with us in more detail should you need support or have concerns about how best to support your pet at the end of their life.
As we all take care to create a safe environment, we have added outdoor seating in the Harmony Garden and will continue to work with your pet’s “fear free” needs by offering outdoor or backyard exams as needed. Masks will be required indoors for the foreseeable future; they will also be required outdoors for unvaccinated individuals.
We are, like all others, are looking forward to coming out of this pandemic. However, it will take time. We appreciate the patience you have provided and continue to provide as we navigate the risks to human life while continuing to provide exceptional veterinary care to your pets. We are in this together and are looking forward to the time when we can see your smiling faces, give you a hug and finally sit down indoors for a consult.