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Although new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Jeffco were continuing to decrease heading into Christmas, the county’s numbers were not yet where they need to be to move out of Level Red, the second most restrictive level on the state COVID-19 dial.

According to the most recent guidance issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, a county qualifies to be moved into Level Orange when it is seeing 175-350 new cases per 100,000 people, its test positivity rate is at 15% or less and its hospitalization rate is either stable or declining over a two-week period.

A county’s hospitalization rate is defined as stable if it has seen no greater than a 25% increase in the county’s referral hospitals or no more than two new hospital admissions with COVID-19 in the most recent two-week period.

Christine Billings, the COVID-19 Incident Commander with JCPH, said during a telephone town hall on Dec. 17 that some, but not all, of the county’s numbers were currently consistent with the indicators for Level Orange. However, the county cannot begin the process of consulting with CPDHE about a move to Level Orange until all of the metrics have been met for at least two weeks, she said.

“We’re watching our numbers closely, as well as the trends and potential spikes around the holidays, and we’ll continue to update our community as the situation progresses,” said Billings.

Still too many new cases for move

As of Dec. 17, the county test positivity rate was 9.7%, which would qualify Jeffco for Level Orange. However, the county had seen 585.7 new cases per 100,000 residents over the prior two weeks, which is still well above the 350 or fewer cases per two-week number needed to qualify for the improved color ranking.

Still, the trend is an encouraging one as that two-week number was down significantly from the 822.8 cases per 100,000 people the county had seen over the two weeks ending on Dec. 16 and nearly half the 1061.2 cases per 100,000 people the county saw for the two weeks ending on Nov. 25, when new cases peaked in Jeffco.

Hospitalizations were also decreasing, with Jeffco hospitals reporting that about 72% of their staff ICU beds were full, as of Dec. 17. That was down from a week earlier, when Jeffco hospitals reported their ICUS were at 90% capacity, but slightly higher than the 70% number across the entire metro area reporting on Dec. 10.

A move to Level Orange would allow restaurants to reopen indoor dining at 25% while gyms and officers would also be able to increase their capacity. In-person learning is also suggested by the state for counties in Level Orange.

Officials excited about vaccine

During the town hall, JCPH medical director Mark B. Johnson said JCPH officials are “so excited about the arrival of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in Jefferson County and very hopeful about what it means both for our response and the recovery from this pandemic.”

However, Johnson said it will likely take several months for the vaccines to be made available to the general public and that it is important that the public continue with social distancing, mask wearing and frequent handwashing until that happens, even once the vaccine is obtained.

“It’s important to continue with these steps because there are some things we do not yet know about the vaccination and one of those is that even though it may protect you if you do get the virus you may still be able to spread it to others,” Johnson said. “That’s something that’s still being studied.”

Johnson said the public should also know that the FDA has gone through a rigorous approval process to study both vaccines, including trials on both animals and people, and no serious safety concerns have been reported.

“You’ve probably heard that there are some side effects such as mild fever, chills, body aches, pain and redness of the injection site, perhaps some nausea and fatigue,” said Johnson. “Most of those last only one or two days and that is actually a good sign — it shows your body is reacting to the vaccine and actually creating antibodies.”