While COVID-19-related restrictions continue to loosen in many Colorado counties, they are tightening in Jeffco after the state informed the county that it would be moved back to Level Yellow on its COVID-19 dial.
The move, which is effective at 6 a.m. on Friday, April 9, means that bars will again have to close while restaurants, offices, gyms and other spaces will have to reduce their capacity by as much as 50%.
Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director Dawn Comstock said the move was made because Jeffco’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases exceeded 115 cases per 100,000 in county population for five consecutive days. On April 8, the seven-day average for new cases was 135.9 per 100,000.
Comstock said the other two indicators for determining which level a county falls into are also “solidly in the yellow” after generally remaining in the blue range for several weeks. Those are the county’s test positivity rate, which had moved above 5% for the first time since mid-January, and the trend of hospitalizations, which is now increasing after having stayed flatlined for months.
Those increases mirror trends in the broader Denver metro area, Comstock said, where the test positivity rate has breached the five5% threshold and hospitalizations are also growing.
Particularly worrying is that the bulk of hospitalizations now involve those between the ages of 30 and 60. The majority of people hospitalized for most of the pandemic were 70-and-over but the number of hospitalizations for that age group has fallen dramatically as nearly 90% of Jeffco residents in that demographic have received at least one vaccination.
Comstock said officials believe hospitalizations are increasing among younger people because the B.1.1.7 variant, which is known as the UK variant, is increasingly showing up in Colorado.
“It’s expected by the end of this week that the UK variant will be the predominant variant strain here in Colorado,” said Comstock on April 6. “This is concerning because it not only seems to move through communities even faster but it also seems to have a more severe impact on the younger population.”
Officials are also worried about the impact that both the resumption of in-person learning and recent spring breaks will have on Jeffco’s case counts in coming weeks.
“I am incredibly concerned about what we are going to see in our county two to three weeks from now as a result of the return to in-person learning,” said Comstock. “We at JCPH and all public health agencies across the state are monitoring this very, very closely.”
Comstock said it is telling that the test positivity rate is still “very, very high” among people in the 16-49 age group, which had a vaccination rate of only 29.1% as of April 7 in comparison to 45.6% of all Jeffco residents.
“If I can make one plea today it is that our younger populations need to understand that this pandemic is not over, that they are at risk of acquiring an infection until they are fully immune after their vaccination and that the predominant strain, the UK variant, is having a concerning effect on them when they acquire it,” she said.
With the opening of vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and over, Comstock also encouraged all county residents who have not yet received a vaccine to attempt to sign up for vaccines with several providers. A list of Jeffco providers and sign-up links can be found at jeffco.us/4210/vaccine.
“Please, no one wait for your healthcare provider to contact you,” she said. “Take the initiative to go to these websites and find open appointments and sign up for yourself.”
While the pandemic is not yet over, Comstock said residents should know she is optimistic that there will be enough vaccination coverage by early to mid-May for Jeffco and the state to be in position to have a “relatively normal summer.”
That prediction is based in part on Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment models that estimate 69% of Colorado residents will be vaccinated by the end of May.
“I think we’ll be able to have a pretty open summer,” she said. “We just need everybody to pull together for the next month to month-and-a-half.”