The coronavirus continues to spread through Colorado at a rate that’s killing hundreds and sickening thousands as December holidays threaten to worsen the trends if residents are tempted to congregate despite public health warnings against gatherings.
That was the message during a remote news briefing on Thursday that included comments from state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy and Colorado School of Public Health Dean Jon Samet.
The state is weeks into its third, and worst, wave of infections, with an average daily new case count since mid-November of well more than 4,000. About 1 in every 40 Coloradans is infectious, which is up from 1 in 41 last week, the officials said. “Contacts are riskier now than any time during the pandemic,” stated a slide in a presentation during the briefing.
Transmission control — which measures the degree to which Coloradans adhere to self-isolation, mask-wearing and other behavioral practices that control spread of the disease — stands at 71%. Universal and complete isolation would be 100%. Public health officials prefer to see the figure closer to 80%. The state’s reproductive number, or R value, is 1.2 — any reproductive number over 1 represents growth in infections.
All of this means Colorado is facing a difficult December of increasing COVID cases — the question is how much of an increase.
“We’re really continuing to see a steady increase in the number of individuals hospitalized in the state,” Herlihy said. “We continue to see a growing strain on our health care system throughout the state.”
Officials expect to gauge next week what effect Thanksgiving travel and gatherings had on the state’s COVID conditions, they said during the briefing. And they warn that failure of Coloradans around the December holidays to adhere to safety measures could significantly worsen the state’s situation.
“Cancel gatherings with people who do not live with you,” Herlihy advised.
To date there have been 3,109 deaths among Coloradans with COVID-19. At the current trajectory, even if the state’s transmission control improves to 80%, officials expect the death count to climb to 5,194 by the end of the year. But if the state’s transmission control remains at 71% and people create a holiday surge with unsafe gatherings, Colorado’s death count will number 5,809 by the new year, according to state modeling.
“I think this is a really tricky month ahead,” Samet said. “We have a population that is fatigued with doing what it needs to do, so, I don’t like to be a grim prognosticator here, but if the curve keeps rising, as the R value suggests it will right now, we will see more hospitalizations, more cases, more deaths.”
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