On June 18, Jefferson County submitted a second variance request to the state, seeking certain exemptions from state COVID policies, after its first request was approved.
The new request sought permission to increase the gathering size limit to as much as 175 people inside and 250 people outside, as well as the go-ahead for movie theaters, libraries and other still-closed facilities to reopen.
According to Jefferson County Public Affairs Director Julie Story, the county was told on June 19 the request was being put on hold until certain questions were answered as the state prepared to move into a new stage of the public health order.
The county answered those questions and, at press time, was waiting to hear back from CDPHE within the next week or two.
A list of approved county variances can be found at tinyurl.com/co-variances.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, Jeffco residents can now get a clearer and more precise picture of how and where the pandemic is impacting the county by accessing a redesigned online dashboard.
The new dashboard, which debuted late last month, can be accessed at tinyurl.com/jeffco-covid. It includes several charts and data points that had not been previously available to the public, such as maps that break down the number and rate of cases in neighborhood units that are much smaller than the city breakdown that was previously available.
This newer, more detailed data can be particularly illuminating when trying to understand the virus’ impact on a city like Golden. That’s because the county’s old dataset listed Golden as having over 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while the new site listed 114 as of July 2.
Why the change? It’s because the old site only listed cases by city, and any cases in unincorporated areas closest to Golden were also included in the city’s total.
The new site, however, not only does away with that problem but allows residents to compare smaller sections of the city such as the eastern part of the city (labeled East Old Golden Road) and Lakota Hills.
To help the community understand and utilize the new dashboard, Jefferson County Public Health Epidemiologist Kate Watkins recently gave a presentation on how to use and understand the data. Here were five takeaways:
• After a continuous decline since mid-May, Jeffco was starting to see a slow uptick in cases as of July 2.
One of the main tools the county is using to measure the trend in cases are three- and seven-day moving averages, which measure the average number of new cases for the last seven days and allows epidemiologists to understand general trends that are less impacted by single day variations in reporting.
Watkins said both of those averages have been slowly but continuously declining since mid-May but are starting to show a slight uptick.
“Over the last week we’ve actually started to see a little bit of an increase in the number of cases, which was not unexpected with the movement from Stay-at-Home to Safer-at-Home and then from Safer-at-Home to the expanded openness we’ve seen with Safer-at-Home and in the vast great outdoors,” said Watkins. “We expected to see an increase in cases and we are starting to see that.”
• Deaths in Jeffco have continued to decrease week over week since mid-May.
Reported deaths peaked the week of April 19 with 27 and reached their second highest total the week of May 17 with 25. Since then, the number of deaths has declined each week and reached their lowest total yet the week of June 21 with 3 deaths.
The overall trend has been a decrease in new hospitalizations since they peaked at 71 the week of June 12. The county saw its lowest level of new hospitalizations during the week of June 28 when just two new patients were hospitalized in Jeffco. However, Watkins said she is expecting the county may see more hospitalizations as the summer and fall progress.
• Jeffco isn’t doing as many tests as it wants to be, but county’s positive rate remains low.
When it comes to testing, there are two important numbers Watkins said she is keeping her eye on. The first is the number of tests being administered in the county per day, which she said is important not only to identify individual cases but to make sure the county is getting an accurate overall picture of how many cases there are in the community.
The number of tests being conducted has generally increased since the start of the pandemic and around 500-600 PCR tests (one of two types of tests the county is counting) are now typically conducted each day. However, Watkins said the county continues to fall short of the 800 tests per day Harvard Global Health recommends for a county of Jeffco’s size.
The good news is the percentage of county tests that are positive has consistently fallen below 5% in recent weeks, which is the county’s goal.
• Hispanics and the elderly are disproportionately affected.
The new dashboard also contains several graphs that compare that breakdown cases and deaths among certain demographics, including age, sex and race.
Those graphs show that Jeffco’s Hispanic and elderly populations have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19: Hispanics make up 15.5% of Jeffco’s population yet account for 25.6% of cases while those over 80 account for 3.7% of the population but 11% of deaths.
People living in an institution, such as a nursing or care home, account for 18.4% of county cases but 72% of county deaths.
• Lower income neighborhoods harder hit.
The new dashboard includes maps and charts that break down cases by both city (or census designated place) and neighborhoods (a combination of census tracts intended to provide a look at cases on a scale that is smaller than cities but not small enough to compromise patient confidentiality.
According to that data, the city of Wheat Ridge has the highest rate of cases in the county at 9.09 per 1,000 persons (as of July 2) while tiny Aspen Park has the lowest at just 1 per 1,000 people.
Neighborhoods with the highest rate of cases include Skiline in Arvada (14,64 per 1,000 persons), Charles Whitlock Recreation Park and Morse Park in Lakewood (which are listed as one neighborhood and have a case rate of 13.02 per 1,000). Watkins said those are two of the county’s lower income neighborhoods.
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