The Leadville Elks Lodge #236 flies the American flag at half-staff on Tuesday. Government agencies and private businesses across Lake County lowered their American flags this week in accordance with President Joe Biden’s order meant to honor the 500,000 American lives lost to COVID-19. The first Lake County resident to die of complications related to the virus passed away in Leadville this week.

Lake County’s first COVID-19-related death was confirmed Monday by the Lake County Public Health Agency as healthcare providers work to vaccinate residents against the virus.

An unnamed male in his 70s who tested positive for the illness on Jan. 21 is believed to have died due to complications of COVID-19 that may have worsened underlying health conditions, according to a release from the Lake County Public Health Agency (LCPHA).

Community transmission of the virus has continued since last year, though LCPHA hopes to stem the spread of the illness as the agency works through its vaccination plan.

Operating under the state’s framework for vaccine priority, LCPHA and local healthcare providers have been administering the two-phased Moderna vaccine to recipients in Lake County since first receiving the medication on Dec. 22.

Lake County’s small size and interconnectedness have proven helpful to the agency’s vaccination effort, LCPHA Director Colleen Nielsen told the Herald.

While other counties have struggled to make the weekly 100 doses provided by the state meet their needs, Nielsen said Lake County’s comparatively small population of those currently eligible for the medication has made it easier to distribute the vaccination to those who want it.

The first round of vaccinations went to frontline, highest-risk healthcare workers, all of whom had been vaccinated by the end of 2020.

Shortly thereafter, on Jan. 8, the county began administering vaccinations to first responders, moderate-risk healthcare workers, and residents aged 70 years or more. By the end of January, the county had finished this tier of vaccinations.

On Feb. 8, LCPHA moved into the next vaccination tier which includes residents over 65 years old, and, under an updated state-level vaccination plan, educators.

After Governor Jared Polis amended the vaccination plan to include K-12 educators throughout the state, LCPHA coordinated with the Lake County School District to administer shots to all employees of the district, including educators and staff.

The first doses were distributed to Lake County School District employees on Feb. 12 with the help of LCPHA. Educators and staff who opted for the vaccine received the shots at a point of dispersal set up at the Lake County Intermediate School, Nielsen said.

While Lake County’s educators have been vaccinated against the virus, no medication has yet been approved for children under 16 years old.

It is unclear what percentage of Lake County’s residents have been vaccinated to-date, though 1,107 first doses and 418 second doses had been administered locally as of Feb. 19, Nielsen said.

As the county works through its vaccination plan, more people will be eligible for the medication, including frontline essential workers and residents with two or more high-risk health conditions.

No date has been set for when the next phase will begin, though Nielsen said LCPHA is working with supervisors at local businesses to arrange for vaccinations of frontline workers when the time comes.

Though vaccinations provide some protection against the spread of COVID-19, local healthcare workers continue to stress the importance of preventative measures including masking and avoiding social gatherings, even for those who have received the vaccine.

LCPHA’s release confirming the county’s first COVID-related death did not specify if the victim had been vaccinated, and LCPHA did not confirm the person’s identity when contacted by the Herald.

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