With the number of positive COVID-19 cases continuing to rise within Elbert County, Dwayne Smith, director of Elbert County Public Health, warns the county is headed toward a more restrictive level on Colorado’s COVID-19 dial framework.

“The rate of COVID-19 cases in Elbert County is increasing at an alarming rate,” Smith said on Oct. 27. “If the upcoming two weeks have the same rate of growth in hospitalizations that occurred the previous two weeks, Colorado will reach the same April peak level of hospitalizations in early November.”

Smith stresses that now is the time for residents to be diligent about social distancing, wearing masks, and preparing for the upcoming winter months.

“There is a narrow window of time to make changes and reduce transmission levels before we encounter holidays, flu season, increased indoor activity and other factors that introduce even more risk than what we are currently experiencing,” said Smith. “These are stark and sobering trends and it is clear that swift and dramatic action is required in order to suppress our current, accelerating rate of transmission.”

Elbert County has remained at the Safer at Home Level 2-concern on the COVID-19 dial, which allows for outdoor site-specific activities if approved by variance, restaurants to serve customers at 50% capacity and houses of worship to do the same. Group sports and camps have been able to accommodate 25 people, and indoor events have included up to 75 attendees.

If Elbert County reaches the next level of Safer at Home Level 3-high risk, Smith said there will be definitely be changes in the county.

“If we can’t reverse the current uptick in cases and infections, it’s impossible to say what the next few months will look like,” said Smith. “It probably looks like a transition to full-time online learning for school students, cancellation of sports and performing arts events at schools, there may be a reduction in the volume of patrons a restaurant can serve indoors, and bars may again discontinue service. In short, it looks like a return to the restrictions that everyone struggled with during the first wave of infections back in April.”

Of particular concern, according to Smith, is the potential for reduced capacity for public safety and first responders if a paramedic, firefighter or law enforcement official becomes infected. As of Oct. 28, the county’s two-week cumulative incidence rate was at 172.38 cases per 100,000 population. Once the county reaches 175 cases per 100,000, it would transition to the Safer at Home Level 3-high risk status on the dial. If that happens, the number of people allowed to gather in places of worship or restaurants would be reduced to 25% capacity, gyms would have to hold virtual or outdoor classes with less than 10 people; and retail establishments would be limited to 25% capacity.

Public safety departments around the county have responded to pandemic in various ways, including reassigning personnel to high-traffic areas, suspending training and community outreach initiatives, implementing safety precautions for personnel and limiting access to department facilities, according to Smith.

“Elbert County Public Health implores all county residents to think about the quickest and most effective steps you can take in your own community to mitigate transmission of the virus,” said Smith.

Elbert County Commissioner Chris Richardson said on Oct. 27 that residents have been doing very well at making good decisions, and he’s hopeful the county will remain in the less restrictive level.

“There has been no traceable activity from events, activities or businesses within the community,” said Richardson. “I think we still remain on the path of doing our best to provide citizens with good information of what’s going on so they can make good decisions.”

Richardson expressed frustration with a reporting error from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which, he said, prevented the county from knowing about several new positive cases. Due to a formatting problem, test results from Kaiser Permanente had not been included in the CDPHE’s daily reporting from Oct. 1 to Oct. 23.

“My biggest concern over Friday (Oct. 23, when the reporting error was announced), is that we got a fairly large dump of mostly older cases from the 16,000 tests that the state didn’t capture,” said Richardson. “It prevented us from knowing weeks ago, and we weren’t able to reach out and provide advice and guidance to those who tested positive. We’ll never know what impact that might have had. But I expect we’ll drop back down to numbers we were used to seeing before that, which were more around two to five per day.”

As of Oct. 29, Elbert County had 244 PCR-confirmed cases, which means they were currently infected at the time of the test. Serology confirmed cases totaled 30, which meant the test revealed they had been infected in the past.