Denver warns new stay-at-home order possible if COVID-19 spread not curbed
Denver warned residents Monday they could face another stay-at-home order if the resurgent spread of COVID-19 is not soon brought under control, saying “what we are doing isn’t working.”
That came as public health officials said the odds any given person somebody encounters in Colorado is contagious with the coronavirus are now nearly as high as they were in April.
Last week, a model of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado projected the state would keep admissions to intensive-care units just below the number of available beds if current trends continued.
But the situation worsened, with an increasing rate of hospitalizations, and the model now shows there could be more intensive-care patients in Colorado than beds come January — even without accounting for the spread that could accompany holiday travel.
The Colorado School of Public Health estimated about one in every 292 people in the state is currently contagious. That’s approaching levels seen during the virus’s first wave in April, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health.
On Monday afternoon, the City and County of Denver announced in a tweet that if trends don’t change, another stay-at-home order could be necessary. The city urged residents to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands.
Eight counties, including Denver and Adams, had high-enough numbers of new coronavirus cases to trigger a stay-at-home order under the state’s color-coded dial framework, though they have a grace period to bring those numbers down before being moved into the red zone.
“Denver’s #COVID19 situation is looking bad. Really bad,” the city said in its tweet. “No seriously, what we are doing isn’t working.”
Public health officials were a bit more circumspect, but acknowledged the situation looks bleak as hospitalizations and new infections continued to climb. To bring the virus’ spread under control, people need to take an “all of the above” approach by wearing masks, reducing the number of people they get close to, cooperating with contact tracers, and getting tested and isolating if they’ve been exposed, Carlton said.
“On the whole in Colorado right now, it’s clear it’s not enough,” she said.
Colorado recorded 9,639 new cases last week, which was the highest number since the state has had reliable data. It was the second week in a row that broke a record set the previous week. Other weeks also showed increases as the state added 1,211 backlogged cases that weren’t recorded because of a technological glitch loading results from Kaiser Permanante.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 513 people were hospitalized statewide with confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon — the highest number since May 16. In Denver, 98 people were hospitalized with the virus as of Sunday, the highest level since late May.
At the current level of increase, statewide hospitalizations could pass their April peak of 888 before Thanksgiving.
Models assume that current conditions continue, so strict adherence to public health guidelines could prevent hospitals from becoming overcrowded, Dr. Jon Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said during an event hosted Monday by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
“We develop these what-if scenarios because we don’t want them to happen,” he said.
Large family gatherings will be risky this year no matter what, but bringing transmission down over the next few weeks would make it somewhat safer to celebrate with a few people, Carlton said. If Colorado continues on the current trajectory, however, it will be substantially harder to get the virus to levels where any gatherings are safe, she said.
“We are rapidly running out of runway,” she said.
Counties take action
On Friday, the state health department issued an order limiting personal gatherings to no more than 10 people, from no more than two households. Denver had issued an order limiting gatherings to five people a week earlier, though it didn’t specify how many households could be involved.
Adams County also took action Friday, moving from yellow to orange on the state’s dial framework because of “skyrocketing” cases and increasing hospitalizations. Under the orange level, most businesses are limited to 25% of capacity, and gyms can only offer outdoor or virtual services. The change will take effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“We understand it has been a very long year, but to avoid further restrictions from the health department, we need everyone in Adams County to pull together and do what needs to be done to get our numbers down,” Adams County Commissioner Emma Pinter said in a news release. “Our goal is always to keep our businesses open and our communities thriving, but to do that we need everyone to follow these new guidelines more closely than ever before.”
Mesa County also moved up a level, from green to blue, meaning groups of up to 500 people are no longer authorized. On Thursday, the county had reported 74 cases, smashing the previous record of 44, set a day earlier.
It took the county four months to reach its first 100 cases, which makes adding 118 in two days particularly troubling, Mesa County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Kuhr said in a news release. He urged residents to avoid crowds and confined spaces, and to wear masks if they can’t.
“Mesa County’s positive cases have significantly increased over the past month. Most of this is due to informal gatherings between friends and family, and people showing up at work and other places while sick, in some instances resulting in sizable outbreaks,” he said.
Statewide, 23 counties, including Mesa County and most of the Front Range, had enough cases that they could be moved to the orange level if they don’t bring the rate of spread down.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a reason for the fall wave, because schools and colleges were returning at the same time that people were dealing with “COVID fatigue,” Samet said. It takes several weeks for transmission to fall after people change their behavior, which is concerning with only about a month until Thanksgiving, he said.
“We’ve just been doing less and less well,” he said.
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