Jeffco “heading in wrong direction” as COVID cases still rising

Increasing number of cases in schools also a concern

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/5/21

“We are still going in the very wrong direction.” That was the bottom line takeaway from the COVID-19 update Jeffco Public Health Executive Director Dawn Comstock gave to the Jefferson County on …

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Jeffco “heading in wrong direction” as COVID cases still rising

Increasing number of cases in schools also a concern

Posted

“We are still going in the very wrong direction.”

That was the bottom line takeaway from the COVID-19 update Jeffco Public Health Executive Director Dawn Comstock gave to the Jefferson County on April 28.

Comstock said the county’s seven-day case rate was nearly 200 cases per 100,000 residents, which is the highest it had been since late October when Governor Polis was just days away from instituting some of the most severe COVID-19 restrictions of the pandemic. Test positivity also continued to increase and was at 6.1% as of April 28.

“We are clearly in a fourth wave,” said Comstock. “There is no denying it at all.”

But even as increases in those metrics created new concern for public health officials, Comstock said Jeffco remained well below the threshold of new hospitalizations that would lead county public health officials to institute new restrictions under the county’s two-phased reopening plan.

Under that plan, county officials could move the county to Level Blue on the state’s latest COVID-19 dial starting on May 15, if Jeffco were to see at least two new hospitalizations for COVID-19 per 100,000 people over a 14-day period. But as of April 29, Jeffco had seen an average of just one hospitalization per 100,000 over the last two weeks.

But while it remained below the hospitalizations threshold, that rate of new hospitalizations was still significantly higher than the 0.6 hospitalizations per 100,000 number the county saw at the start of April.

The rise in those metrics also comes at a concerning juncture for the county’s vaccination efforts, Comstock said.

“Here in Jeffco we are doing well, we are at 63.6% of all residents 16-and-over who have received at least one vaccine,” she said. “However, we are starting to see demand start to wain just a bit for the first time.”

“Last week I told you I was excited to watch the percentage of vaccinated residents increase by one percent per day but over this past week it has only increased by about half a percent per day so that’s something we are concerned with and we are watching.”

But while the overall rate of vaccinations is slowing, Comstock said the percentage of people over 65 who have been vaccinated continues to be a bright spot.

She said the county’s goal is to vaccine at least 70% of the people in each age group. However, the county is already far above that number for its oldest residents with 93.7% of those over 70 and 81.9% of those between 65 and 69 having received at least one vaccination.

“I’m feeling much, much more comfortable that people 60 and older in our community are being protected,” she said.

Younger residents, however, are a different story. Over the past month cases have been rising quickly among those ages 20-29 and 10-19 while more people ages 30-49 and 50-69 went into the hospital during the second to last week of April then at any other time during the pandemic.

Comstock said the greater numbers of younger people being hospitalized are the result of both less adherence to preventative measures such as social distancing and the increasing presence of new COVID-19 variants that lead to more severe cases of the virus. About 54.6% of Jeffco residents ages 16-49 had received one shot of the vaccine as of April 29.

In recent days, the virus has also shown up increasingly in Jeffco schools with Comstock saying on April 28 that the district had over 50 current cases for the first time since the winter and only the fifth time since the start of the pandemic. Even more concerning, Comstock said was that 55 of the 58 current cases the district recorded on that day were among students rather than faculty.

“It’s not enough just to keep schools open,” she said. “We need to keep schools open safely. We can’t lose sight of that.”

During the discussion of schools, Commissioner Tracy Kraft-Tharp said she has received several emails from people saying “it doesn’t matter if kids get COVID-19 because they don’t go into the hospital or get real sick.”

“But I don’t get that information from you,” Kraft-Tharp said to Comstock. “So can I get the facts from you?”

Comstock responded that while data from much of the pandemic supported the idea that kids were less likely to get severely ill, that has been changing.

“I have heard from many, many parents that you need to let us evaluate the risk of our child and I appreciate that,” Comstock said. “But parents need to know that even the youngest kids aren’t immune from contracting this virus and anyone who contracts it can possibly get very very ill.”

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