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Elbert County was moved to level blue — cautious — on the COVID dial March 9, which will allow for increased capacity in restaurants, indoor gatherings and fitness centers. The number of positive cases in the county has been dropping, with the county’s two-week average positivity rate being at 6.12% as of March 17. That’s a huge decline from the county’s highest rate of 14.75 in November.

“Amazingly, we are one year into the pandemic,” said Elbert County Board of Health Director Dwayne Smith. “In many ways it’s hard to comprehend, but we have experienced a lot of challenges, and will continue to experience challenges for the next couple of months, but we are looking forward to a summer of activities that hopefully will be normal.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Elbert County has seen 1,228 positive cases of COVID-19, with 79 hospitalizations and 12 deaths. Approximately 7,500 people in the county have been tested.

Under the less-restrictive level of blue, restaurants will be allowed capacity at 50%, or up to 225 people, which is up from 150 people in the yellow level. Gyms and indoor entertainment venues will be allowed capacity up to 175 people.

Smith said the county currently has three enrolled vaccine providers to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to county residents — Elbert County Public Health, Safeway pharmacy and Peak Vista, and is working on a program with Elizabeth Fire that will increase testing opportunities and subsequent vaccine distribution.

“Without any health-care infrastructure, Elbert County has very little existing capacity to facilitate mass vaccination efforts,” said Smith.

As of March 17, 4,864 total doses of the vaccine have been administered to residents, most of which were received outside of the county. Elbert County providers have distributed 1,500 doses, which places Elbert County at 35th among Colorado’s 64 counties in the vaccination metric.

Vaccine hesitancy among county residents is a concern, even as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is distributing approximately 240,000 doses each week.

“The next vaccine clinic hosted by ECPH will be March 29 and April 26, for populations eligible under phase 1A, 1B.1 and 1B.2,” said Smith.

Those populations include high-risk health care workers, long-term care facility staff and residents, people over age 65, moderate-risk health care workers, first responders and child-care workers. Appointments are required for vaccinations. For local vaccine appointments visit www.mhealthappointments.com/covidappt or www.peakvista.org/resources/covid-19-patient-resources.