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Mayor Of Durango, Colo., Discusses Possible COVID-19 Vaccine Approval

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are waiting for a decision from the Food and Drug Administration any time now on whether to authorize a coronavirus vaccine. Some Americans could get a shot within the coming days, and communities are ready. They are so ready. That includes Durango, Colo., where a current COVID outbreak at a nursing home has killed two people and infected more than 100 elderly patients and staff. And we're joined this morning by Durango's mayor, Dean Brookie, on the line. Mayor, thanks for being here.

DEAN BROOKIE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Well, what do you know about this outbreak at the nursing home in your community?

BROOKIE: Well, as you mentioned, it's - our significant senior care facility in our community of 20,000 people has had a major outbreak. It serves a population of about 100 residents. And so the larger percentage of them have become infected, along with 43 staff members in that facility. So it's - we didn't have this problem early on like so many other communities did. But in fact, it's coming back to bite us later in the COVID scenario. So it - largely caused by just a interaction with the rest of the community as we relax some of the regulations in our community. Staff members became infected and obviously reintroduced it to this particular facility, causing an outbreak in this vulnerable population. So...

GREENE: The statistics I've seen - it looks like ICU bed capacity in southwest Colorado where you are is getting really close to full. I mean, how are health care workers in your town managing this outbreak?

BROOKIE: It is. Our primary hospital here is - has a limited number of beds, but we do have a very good facility. But it's been at 95% to 100% capacity since slightly prior to Thanksgiving. So we have become significantly concerned about our surge capacity. And we're right at that threshold. We're above the 80% threshold that we would like to be at and is the threshold that causes us to be encountering further restrictions from the governor's health orders. So at 95%, that's not a good situation, but it's - really, the staffing is the larger issue, becoming the larger issue, as the, uniformally, hospitalization rates increase throughout the state. We don't have available staff to bring into our community, to transfer into our community, to staff any surge situation that we might have here.

GREENE: So we're all waiting for this vaccine. I mean, I mentioned that you could have a first shipment of doses really soon. Will it be enough in this early stage to inoculate, you know, these health care workers who are at high risk and also seniors in, you know, places like this nursing home?

BROOKIE: The quick answer is, as of yesterday - and we were very optimistic that we were going to be receiving the Pfizer vaccine. But we - the state allocation is around 46,000 vaccine allotments. And of that, only 500 are going to be coming to - or less than 500 are be coming to our county here to be distributed to those - that first wave, which would be the health care workers and critical front-line folks. So - and we heard yesterday as well that we really won't be receiving what we call in Colorado phase three until probably early summer. So my hope of being able to provide vaccines to the general population and thus have a faster recovery for our businesses and our tourist-based economy here in Durango by summer at least is maybe not in the forecast. So we're a little bit - quite disappointing news yesterday about the rollout and the availability for rural communities such as ourselves.

GREENE: It sounds like that's really important. I mean, as optimistic as we should be about this vaccine, it sounds like in many communities like yours, the idea that you're going to be able to have enough people vaccinated to slow the spread of this any time soon is probably too optimistic.

BROOKIE: Yeah, yeah. You know, we don't expect even some of the health care workers to get fully vaccinated until into February, sometime into February and, as I said, the general public, not till early summer. So that means that we continue to have to encourage our community to do the basics, you know, and flatten the curve, if you will, back to those terms once again, to reduce the transmission rate, the transmission control. And that's just masks, distancing, hygiene, et cetera. So it's a tough sell to those folks that have had fatigue. And - but we were really hoping to have our business community back in full swing by the summer season. But it looks like that may be more of a struggle than we anticipated.

GREENE: We'll hope for the best for you and your community. Dean Brookie is the mayor of Durango, Colo. Mayor, thank you so much for your time.

BROOKIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.