A few weeks ago, Jefferson County Public Health executive director Dawn Comstock told the Jefferson County commissioners that she couldn’t yet see “the light at the end of the tunnel” of the …
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A few weeks ago, Jefferson County Public Health executive director Dawn Comstock told the Jefferson County commissioners that she couldn’t yet see “the light at the end of the tunnel” of the COVID-19 pandemic in Jeffco but she could “see the tunnel.”
On March 11, she stayed with that cautiously optimistic metaphore.
“I feel like now we are actually starting to cross the threshold into that tunnel,” said Comstock. “So my message is just I truly do believe we are very close as long as we can stay the pace and do everything we are doing.”
Comstock said that assessment is based on both Jeffco’s relatively stable rate of new COVID-19 cases and the increasing rate of vaccination.
For the prior two weeks, the rate of new COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County has hovered between 100 and 115 new cases per week per 100,000 in population. Those are the lowest numbers the county has seen since early October.
However, anything above 100 technically means the state has too many cases to remain in Level Blue, the second lowest level on the current COVID-19 dial that Jeffco was able to move to last one month.
But a newly-announced tweak to the dial means Jeffco will now be able to remain in Level Blue as long as it does not see its seven day case rate per 100,000 residents go above 115 cases for five consecutive days.
“Our status in blue is tenuous,” said Comstock.
As of March 10, 206,678 COVID-19 vaccination shots had been administered to Jeffco residents with 27.7% of all county residents having received at least one vaccination shot.
Vaccine: More than 80% of residents over 70 have received a shot
The percentage of vaccination is much higher for the more-vulnerable elderly populations that have been the focus of early vaccination efforts with 83.5% of Jeffco residents 70 and over, and 61.1% of those ages 65-69, having received at least one shot.
But while those numbers portray a situation that has improved markedly from the end of 2020, Comstock also cautioned that the “virus is not gone” and “we are not yet according to herd immunity.”
Colorado School of Public Health modelers currently estimate immunity to be at about 20-25% across the state, Comstock said, with most experts estimating that a population needs to reach at least 70% immunity to obtain “herd immunity.”
The Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology defines herd immunity as occuring when a high percentage of a community is immune to a disease, making the spread of the disease from person to person unlikely.
Immunity is obtained through both vaccination and obtaining antibodies from having the virus.
“We are far away from being able to go back to our everyday activities,” she said. “Please everyone help us get there and make sure we don’t have another peak that makes us go backwards and harms our economy.”
That message was echoed by Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper, who repeatedly referenced the importance of maintaining the community’s progress.
“The last thing we want to do right now as a community is slide backwards especially since our businesses are counting on us, our schools are counting us and certainly our community has worked so incredibly and sacrificed so much,” she said.
Although the move to Level Blue means many businesses can now be open at higher capacities than they have in months, Comstock told the commissioners that she is cautioning against a resumption of in-person business and government meetings for at least another month or two.
Comstock said she will also be holding her breath to see whether both the increased reopening of businesses and the resumption of full in-person learning at Jeffco Public Schools starting on March 15 will have any impact on case counts.
“We have planned with the (district) and they have been incredible partners but it is still an increased risk over at-home learning,” said Comstock of the latter.
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