BISBEE — This time last year was the calm before the holiday storm when the surge in cases of COVID–19 increased dramatically.

What will happen this holiday season is anybody’s guess, but with more than half the population in Cochise County fully vaccinated and some booster shots provided, this fall and winter holiday season may be far less risky.

As it has over the past five months, the delta variant of the virus continues to infect children and adults alike though the number of people hospitalized is in decline. The variant is easier to pass from one to another from those who are unvaccinated.

While the two–shot series of Moderna and Pfizer and one shot of Johnson & Johnson/Janssen are successful in offering protection, it is still possible to become sick, though with a reduced risk of suffering severe symptoms and hospitalizations. These “breakthrough” cases in the vaccinated population can be passed to others who are not vaccinated. It is why the county health department continues to urge people to get vaccinated and follow the protocols of wearing masks, maintain social distancing, wash hands frequently and stay at home if sick.

In the bimonthly COVID–19 update work session Friday with the Board of Supervisors, Vicky King, director of nursing with the Cochise Health and Social Services, provided new numbers of fully vaccinated people, which now stands at 63,815 or 56.9%. As of Nov. 3, there were 4,845 more people vaccinated since the last meeting Oct. 22.

The Moderna and Janssen vaccinations are the most prevalent in the county and were recommended by the county epidemiology team, she said. Not long ago, the Centers for Disease Control recommended people not mix their vaccines as booster shots became available. Now, after a few studies, the CDC determined people could take the vaccine booster of their choice.

First, second and now the booster shots can be obtained at clinics, primary care providers and other doctors’ offices as well as some pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, she said.

People in Bisbee and at the CHSS satellite offices in Sierra Vista, Benson, Willcox and Douglas can schedule their appointments to receive the booster shot.

The Moderna adult booster is a half dose of the second shot, which contains a bit more protection over the other vaccines, and should be given six months after the second shot, said King. The booster shots are now available for people 65 and older, people living in longterm care facilities and their staff, high risk settings, jail inmates and staff, as well as certain people who have chronic conditions such as heart problems and diabetes.

“Those who are immunocompromised may even get a third dose,” she said.

Pfizer has been given authorization to offer its vaccination for younger children who are 5 to 11. King said the children’s doses come in entirely different packaging to prevent confusion.

“We do not have specific orders from CDC for immunization of children and await CDC standing orders,” she added. “These smaller vials have been allocated to CHSS for dispersing to our county providers. We’re unsure at this time of the numbers of children who will get vaccinated.”

Daniel Williamson, county school epidemiologist, reported there were 742 cases in the schools since the start of the school year in August. Since the last meeting, 152 students tested positive for the virus. Three were hospitalized.

He also said 42 of 66 schools met the criteria for an outbreak definition, the same as the last meeting. And, still, only one school is engaged in state-funded testing.

Martha Montano, CHSS lead epidemiologist, said there are two types of tests for COVID-19. One is the molecular/PCR which produces the most accurate level of the virus. The other is an antigen test, which can give false positives or false negatives, though it is all in the timing and how much viral load the body has at the time of testing.

Breakthrough cases continue, but are moderate compared to those among the unvaccinated, according to a graph Montano showed. Since February, when the delta variant arrived, there have been 503 breakthrough cases with the majority of them occurring in September and October.

Montano said, “Pre-delta, before June 25, vaccine breakthroughs occurred in 24 people out of 12,211 cases. Post-delta, from June 26, there were 479 cases out of 3,807 cases.”

Supervisor Tom Crosby said, “In my opinion, I can’t know the irrefutable truth, nor can the doctors and people more educated than I am. We do not know the longterm effects. My opinion is the county should get out of the vaccine business.”

Supervisor Ann English disagreed and said, “We don’t know and can’t know what will happen five years down the road. The county’s job is to help people get vaccinated.”

Information about COVID-19 and vaccines in the county can be found at: https://www.cochise.az.gov/AlertCenter.aspx?AID=COVID19-Information-10.