FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Two nursing home employees in Fort Collins tested positive for COVID-19 in March after they were fully vaccinated, according to the owner of the facility.
Columbine Health Systems (CHS) said Lemay Avenue Health & Rehab Facility detected a positive case involving an employee through surveillance testing. Joel Bitler, director of clinical services at CHS, said that employee was not vaccinated for COVID-19 but further outbreak testing discovered four other staff members also contracted the virus. Bitler said two of those five employees were fully vaccinated.
"Even with everyone being fully vaccinated, we are still required to do surveillance testing," he said.
CHS required the COVID-19 vaccination for all employees by April 1. Bitler believes more than 90% of residents at Lemay Avenue Health & Rehab Facility were also vaccinated against the virus.
"Of all five of (the employees), we do know they had high-risk exposure outside of work," said Bitler.
A “breakthrough case” is when a fully vaccinated person gets the virus after vaccination. Health officials say some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still become infected because no vaccine provides 100% protection against infection. Cases developing among fully vaccinated individuals are expected.
"It was really probably shortly a few weeks after we started seeing individuals fully vaccinated that we started seeing small numbers of breakthrough cases," said Colorado State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Education (CDPHE) said there are a number of cases in the state that meet the standard CDC criteria used to define persons who have become infected with COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. CDPHE said it has not identified more breakthrough cases than they would expect given current vaccination and transmission rates. A spokesperson said some of these cases are asymptomatic.
"Based on preliminary info, we don’t believe we are seeing an excess of these cases or that we are seeing decrease effectiveness," Herlihy said.
Herlihy said the state is participating in studies with the CDC and other states to better understand vaccine breakthrough cases.
"Are individuals of certain age groups who are vaccinated more likely to be breakthrough cases? Are they occurring in a certain part of the state?" she said.
Along with CDC, CDPHE is collecting information about these cases in order to learn more about variant strains. CDPHE said the state does not yet have data on how many of these cases in Colorado are due to COVID-19 variants.
"We continue to see a decline in cases and hospitalizations among individuals who have been vaccinated and I think that is strong evidence that the vaccines are working," Herlihy said.
Over at Lemay Avenue Health & Rehab Facility, CHS said all tests came back negative for residents even after the two employees got COVID-19. The number of employees who tested positive is small considering more than 200 staff work at the facility, according to Bitler.
"Huge relief for us to feel things are finally moving in the right direction and even if we do continue to see some of this positive tests still coming, we can still protect our residents," he said.
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