So far there’s no sign of a COVID-19 spike from the first schools in Colorado returning to in-person classes in mid-August, but it’s too early to declare the reopening experiment was successful, experts said.
Cases and hospitalizations last week remained roughly level with the previous week, suggesting Colorado’s coronavirus epidemic has plateaued for now. It’s uncertain what direction the virus will take, though, as more large events are allowed, additional schools reopen and winter approaches.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 1,986 cases last week, which was 31 fewer than the week before. The small decrease fit with a pattern of leveling out since the state’s coronavirus cases reached a second peak in late July.
Hospitalizations also were roughly stable. As of Tuesday, 137 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 in Colorado, and 81 others were being treated for coronavirus-like symptoms, but didn’t have testing results. Deaths have not followed any clear pattern recently, ranging from 18 to 38 per week in August.
It typically takes about two weeks for a spike to show up in the data when conditions on the ground change. The first schools in Colorado reopened on Aug. 17, and so far there haven’t been enough cases reported for a signal to come through. Three schools and more than a dozen child care facilities have reported outbreaks, though most only involved a handful of cases.
It’s a positive sign that there hasn’t been a spike so far, but we haven’t yet seen the impact of any infections over Labor Day, or of changes in the weather that force people indoors, said Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health.
“I wish we could say it’s OK, but we have to keep waiting and watching,” he said.
Local health departments will need to continue watching for small outbreaks, which may get drowned out at the state level, Samet said. While statewide case counts have stayed level, Boulder County had its largest number of cases yet in early September, with more than 60 reported in one day. The five-day average also exceeded the previous high point, which was reached in mid-June and blamed on large student gatherings.
“What goes on in the state (data) may not reflect what’s going on in Boulder County,” he said.
In a written statement, the state health department said the continuing decrease in cases and low rate of positive tests is a “hopeful sign” that social distancing and mask wearing are containing the virus in Colorado. About 2.5% of coronavirus tests were positive over the long weekend, which is within the range experts recommend.
Still, it’s too early to draw conclusions about the effect of reopening schools, because so many are still engaged in remote learning, the health department’s statement said.
“We will continue to monitor our data closely,” it said.
Since March, 59,674 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Colorado, and 7,161 have been hospitalized. A total of 1,868 people have died of the disease, and 105 others died with it in their system.
Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday afternoon that three counties had driven their cases low enough to move into the “Protect Our Neighbor” phase of reopening: Gilpin, Mesa and Rio Blanco. That phase allows events with up to 500 people.
Gilpin County reported only one new case in the last two weeks, and Rio Blanco County had three. Mesa County had 84 new cases. Mesa County health officials didn’t return messages seeking to clarify the numbers.
Polis said those three counties could loosen restrictions on events during the same news conference at which he announced limited numbers of fans would be allowed to attend Broncos’ games in person.
Just days earlier, public health officials had asked Coloradans to avoid large events over Labor Day weekend, to try to avert a spike in cases like the one that followed Independence Day. It’s too early to know how the weekend will affect case counts, since most people don’t show symptoms immediately.
“We’re hopeful that Coloradans learned our lessons,” Polis said.
This content was originally published here.