After steadily increasing for most of the past two months, Jeffco’s two-week COVID-19 case counts began trending down some at the start of December and have since remained lower than the peak they reached in November.
The two-week new case numbers peaked at 6,124 on Nov. 21, which was up from around 2,567 on Nov. 1. The numbers then began trending downward, reaching 5,372 on Dec. 10.
“We could attribute that (dip) to the changes that were made and how we’re moved on the state COVID-19 dial to Level Red and some of the mitigation strategies that were put into place before we were moved into Level Red,” said Jody Erwin, the deputy director of Jefferson County Public Health, in an update provided to the Jeffco commissioners on Dec. 7.
However, Erwin said county public health officials were at that point still assuming that the numbers would soon show a “big uptick” as COVID-19 cases that were contracted at Thanksgiving gatherings.He also said similar increases are expected following Christmas and New Year’s.
“It will be interesting to see what happens over the next week to 10 days and where that goes but we are all anticipating big increases in cases and hospitalizations,” said Erwin.
But the numbers did not seem to indicate such a trend was occurring as of Dec. 10, two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday, a trend which was consistent with other counties in the Denver metro area, State epidemeologist Rachel Herlihy to told the Denver Post that the state was not seeing a trend asscoiated with Thanksgiving, although it was still possible for such a trend to show up later.
As of Dec. 10, there were also 241 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Jeffco, more than at any other time in the pandemic. Still, Jeffco’s hospitals had not yet reached capacity, he said.
“We are not full at this point, which is a surprise honestly,” said Erwin. “We are pushing about 90% of capacity in our Jeffco hospitals for both ICU and regular beds, which is getting up there but not at the point yet where we are having to look at moving to surge sites or anything like that.”
Erwin said staffing, which recently has been cited as a greater concern than bed capacity as an increasing number of hospital workers come down with COVID-19, also “appears to be OK.”
During the update, Commissioner Libby Szabo repeatedly expressed concern that Jeffco residents are becoming frustrated and “losing hope” as they do everything they are told to do in regards to decreasing the spread only to see cases continue to rise.
But Erwin responded that case trends suggest that people aren’t adhering enough to health guidelines to slow the spread enough to make lifting restrictions an option and brought up the example of friends of several friends of his who tested positive for COVID-19 after spending Thanksgiving together.
“We’ve seen that a lot where when people are out in public, they are doing the right thing but then they are going home and having these gatherings and sitting around a table eating with people,” said Erwin.
Erwin also said he understood that adhering to social distancing guidelines is “hard, frustrating and difficult” but that the county will need to find the right balance between the need for people to participate in work, school and other essential activities and that of keeping the virus at manageable levels.
However, if hospitalizations start to decrease enough to decrease the pressure on hospitals even if overall case numbers remain high, that would likely be reason to reduce restrictions, he said.
“That’s a big piece of it for me is keeping our healthcare workers safe and not overwhelmed,” said Erwin. “As soon as we start seeing our hospitals saying `we are doing fine. This is business as usual’ then regardless of what the cases look like at that point if the severity is not terrible that is going to put us in a different place.”