A child in Mesa County has died after contracting a variant of the COVID-19 virus – a strain first identified in India and shown to be more transmissible, according to Mesa County Public Health.

Approximately 37% of Mesa County residents have been fully vaccinated—versus 44% statewide.

Mesa is the only Colorado county where the India variant has been detected, said MCPH Director Jeff Kuhr.

“As we mourn this loss, we also take this opportunity to urgently plead with each member of our community to consider the proven methods to protect yourself and those you love from COVID-19, including vaccination and social distancing precautions,” Kuhr said.

The child who died was hospitalized before her age group was eligible to receive the vaccine.

The child contracted COVID from a family member, according to an MCPH spokesperson.

“We’re seeing a lot more COVID in children of all ages,” Kuhr said. “This last week in the 10-19 age category we had the most compared to all other age categories.”

From May 12 to May 22, there were 301 new cases in Mesa County. Out of nine age categories, the 10-15 age group had 68 cases, or 22.59% of the total cases that week, MCPH communications coordinator Stefany Busch confirmed in an email.

In Mesa County 2,677 children between the ages of 0-19, have been infected with COVID. There have been 140 COVID deaths recorded in Mesa County overall.

Grand Junction’s two hospitals have been at capacity and diverting patients off-and-on over the past couple of weeks, said Kuhr.

Both hospitals say they are monitoring the situation closely. Community Hospital diverted patients May 24, but was back to normal the following day, said Community Hospital spokeswoman Karen Martsolf.

“We’re currently evaluating every couple of hours,” Martsolf said. “It remains a fluid situation.

“We are seeing an uptick in COVID. We currently have 10 COVID patients – that’s one shy of our peak of 11 in November 2020. Now we’re back up to 10.”

St. Mary’s Medical Center issued a statement stating that with “increased COVID-19 and summer trauma cases, there are surges of demand for emergency medical services in Mesa County. This has resulted in St. Mary’s having to implement divert status over short periods of time to ensure optimal patient care and safety.”

Kuhr said he’s “very concerned” about area hospitals being on the edge of capacity and divert status, although he’s quick to point out that rates have stabilized in Mesa County.

A spike of 92 new cases was reported Monday evening – although Kuhr attributed that number to a mistake by Mako Lab – which the health department uses – which had overlooked 60 positive cases a few days earlier. That count ended up being lumped in with numbers reported May 24, which means the actual amount of new cases was around 32.

“Our average is 42 cases a day – that’s stable,” Kuhr said. “We’re averaging 22 hospitalizations a day.”

Colorado has multiple strains of COVID-19; since April 70% of cases have come from a variant strain. There are 38 cases of the India variant in Mesa County, Kuhr said.

“Somebody traveled somewhere and picked it up and brought it back,” he said. “It probably came from a single source,” possibly from someone visiting another state where there was a strain floating around.

There are currently no COVID restrictions in Mesa County.

“Mesa County’s vaccination rate is low and puts our youth below (age) 12 and others who can’t get the vaccine at risk,” Busch said. “MCPH continues encouraging residents to get vaccinated because it is the best-known way to protect those who cannot get vaccinated.”

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, this post incorrectly stated that the Mesa County child died yesterday. It also incorrectly identified an MCPH spokesperson as a “hospital” spokesperson.