Jeffco sees first uptick in COVID-19 case totals in over a month

Dr. Johnson says it is too early to say if uptick represents trend

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 9/22/20

After several weeks of declines, ­COVID-19 cases have once again been on the rise in Jefferson County. Jefferson County Public Health’s Executive Director Mark B. Johnson told the Jeffco …

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Jeffco sees first uptick in COVID-19 case totals in over a month

Dr. Johnson says it is too early to say if uptick represents trend

Posted

After several weeks of declines, ­COVID-19 cases have once again been on the rise in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County Public Health’s Executive Director Mark B. Johnson told the Jeffco commissioners on Sept. 15, just over a week after Labor Day, that his agency was watching case trends closely after starting to see what he described as a “little ticking up again” in new cases.

Johnson said case numbers have been falling from early August from a high of around 700 new cases in two weeks to a low of 300 new cases recorded in the two weeks prior to Friday, Sept. 11. However, the two-week case total number then began to rise over the weekend of Sept. 12 with the county recording 336 new cases over the two weeks preceding Sept. 14.

“I’m not sure yet whether that is a trend we are going to see or whether it will again sort of stabilize and continue to go down,” he said. “But we are right at the period of time after the Labor Day weekend where we would be expecting to see cases if there were breaches of compliance over the holiday weekend.”

According to Johnson, current research suggests most people tend to exhibit symptoms five to seven days after contracting the virus (although it can take up to 14 days for some, and others never show symptoms at all) which meant that JCPH would only now start to get some sense of what the result of Labor Day would be.

Days after Johnson’s report, the county two-week case numbers increased to 359 cases as of Sept. 17, the last day for which data was available prior to the publication deadline for this issue.

That was the highest number of cases in a two-week period since Sept. 6, when the county saw 361 new cases over the preceding two weeks.

The recent case increases, although still relatively small, stand in the way of the county’s ability to further loosen public health restrictions on businesses and public gatherings in Jeffco.

On Sept. 16, Gov. Jared Polis debuted a new framework for if and when Colorado counties can move into various stages of the state reopening plan. Johnson had previously told the commissioners that the county was close to meeting the criteria to move into the least restrictive level of the state reopening plan, which is known as the “protect our neighbors phase.” Under that phase, nearly all public and business activities can take place at 50% capacity.

There are eight benchmarks a county must meet to move into the Protect Our Neighbor phase, and Johnson said Jeffco was meeting seven of them as of Sept. 15. The one missing benchmark relates to the number of new cases in the county over the last two weeks, which counties can meet in multiple ways.

Johnson said the county is currently closest to meeting a measure requiring that counties have no more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents in a two-week period along with a stable test positivity rate below 5%, the latter of which Jeffco is already achieving.

For Jeffco to have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents in a two-week period, the county would need to have 290 or fewer new cases in that time frame.

“We are very close to getting to the protect our neighbor stage,” Johnson said to the commissioners, pointing out that the county had been facing 700 new cased within a 2-week period at the height of the pandemic, so seeing numbers in the 300’s was a sign of progress.

Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper praised the community’s role in bringing numbers down.

“We want to thank our community for your efforts to help prevent the spread by wearing your mask indoors and outdoors when you are with other folks and socially distancing and all of the things we know we need to do,” said Dahlkemper. “You really helped us get our numbers down when our variance was at stake but we’ve got to keep up the good work.”

But while the county continues to make progress on controlling COVID-19 and moving toward loosening restrictions, Johnson said JCPH expects it will be dealing with for “another year or two.”

“Even if a vaccine is found to be effective and is brought to market so that people can get it there are a number of people that are hesitating to get it and we are not sure exactly how long it is going to take to build herd immunity,” he said. “We believe we are going to be seeing cases and doing contact tracing for quite a while.”

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