A country music festival and a surge of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus are posing a grave public health threat to Rep. Lauren Boebert's vaccine-resistant Colorado congressional district.
The three-day Country Jam music festival that kicked off Thursday is expected to draw at least 50,000 people to Mesa County, where health officials have been scrambling to contain a new outbreak of COVID-19 among vaccine-hesitant residents in the deeply conservative region, reported The Daily Beast.
"I've never seen anything like this in my 20 years in health care," said Dr. Thomas Tobin, the chief medical examiner in Community Hospital in Grand Junction. "Pretty much everyone that's coming into the hospital is unvaccinated. Some of those people swear they don't believe in COVID all the way up to when they're in their hospital room, strapped to machines."
The county, where Donald Trump won more than 62 percent of the vote and Boebert won nearly 62 percent, is approaching nearly 300 cases of the Delta variant that's resulting in more hospitalizations and deaths, even as infection rates plummet in areas of the U.S. with higher rates of vaccination -- which tended to back President Joe Biden.
"Vaccine hesitancy is making the Delta variant a bigger problem than it needed to be, so we will see the variant spread rapidly in an unvaccinated population," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "[This variant is] 50 to 60 times more contagious than the Alpha variant, so why roll the dice?"
More than half the state's 534 cases of the Delta variant are in Mesa County, where only 40 percent of people are fully vaccinated and 44 percent have gotten at least one dose, and hospitals are already nearing capacity.
"Our COVID-19 numbers are getting close to what we saw in November and December, when we had hit our apex, and the primary reason is people not getting vaccinated," Tobin said. "We are frustrated, we're tired, and it's upsetting to look around our state and the country and see other places having to drop COVID-19 numbers while we are surging."
COVID-19 conspiracy theories and anti-government sentiment are prevalent in the county, which earlier this month hosted a seminar spreading coronavirus disinformation organized by Boebert's campaign manager Sherronna Bishop, featuring a Nigerian doctor hyped by Trump who claims sexual dreams about demons cause many health problems.
Boebert herself has cast doubts on the vaccines and masks, and has pushed back against mandatory inoculations.
"Every time we think we're getting out head above water, we're back in the trenches, back to where we were months ago," Tobin said. "We're treading water, hoping that a life vest will be thrown and it doesn't come."