The era of the Denver subway residents talking about “the dial” may be over for good as several subway districts lifted local restrictions and switched to what is known as “Level Clear” and the statewide coronavirus -Data looks optimistic for the time being.
“We’re actually seeing some promising trends in the past few weeks based on the decline in both cases and hospital stays,” said Andrea Buchwald, a research fellow at the Colorado School of Public Health.
Colorado’s color-coded COVID-19 dial was the series of restrictions counties had to follow due to the local spread of the virus. The system was affecting capacity in restaurants, other businesses, indoor and outdoor events, and other environments. Colorado originally implemented the dial on September 15th.
Last month, as state officials stepped down and local health officials put most of the coronavirus restrictions in place, metropolitan health officials in the Denver metropolitan area expanded the local “dial” system as the number of viruses increased and COVID-19 variants continued spread kept health officials concerned.
As of May 16, several subway districts are operating in what is known as a “level clear”, generally with no local restrictions – and it is likely to stay that way unless things get worse.
For example, Adams, Arapahoe, and Jefferson counties will continue to level clear unless hospital stays trigger a “snapback determination” where restrictions would return when a county exceeds 2 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents, measured over a period of time 14 days.
Adams and Arapahoe counties are unlikely to reach that bar, said John Douglas, chief of the Tri-County’s health department. That is the health department for these two counties and Douglas County. Broomfield also moved to Level Clear on May 16, and Denver said it “plans to meet Level Clear standards,” according to a spokesman. Denver’s new public health ordinance was due to go into effect May 16. Boulder County should also be brought to a clean level on May 16.
Some counties had already lived without voting restrictions: Douglas County’s elected leaders voted against Tri-County Health’s extension to the voting system during a meeting held on April 13. Some other counties that said they did not issue local orders were Elbert and Weld.
And with coronavirus cases declining, there may be no more voting restrictions in the Denver Metro counties – though that depends on how the virus develops this fall.
“We anticipate the numbers will decline over the summer months and this could turn into more of a seasonal illness as the numbers rise again in the fall,” said Eric France, Colorado chief medical officer, at a news conference on Nov. May.
Any consideration by the state to bring voting restrictions back “depends on the experience of the fall” and is “too difficult to predict as there are variants that need to be taken into account,” France added.
Although the state’s voting system expired in mid-April, not all virus restrictions are local. Shortly after the state election ended, Colorado enacted a new public health ordinance that complies with some limits for large indoor gatherings. Colorado’s mask order is separate and does not depend on the dialing system.
Despite all of the news of restrictions disappearing, Colorado likely has a higher number of active COVID-19 infections than it did during the first peak of the pandemic last spring – even if the lack of testing at that point is factored in, according to estimates by the Colorado School of Public Health from May 12th.
“If people immediately make major changes in behavior that lead to a sharp increase in contact and transmission, there could potentially be many deaths,” said Buchwald. She added: “The pandemic is not over yet. We still need to be vigilant. “
High hospital cases, threatened deaths
When asked if moving metro districts to Level Clear will have a big impact on the spread of coronavirus, Buchwald said it was difficult to predict.
“Much of people’s behavior depends on the news they receive and the news they believe in. And I think the urgency of reopening is real, ”said Buchwald. But “when the message is ‘the pandemic is over’, I think that is dangerous news because I think it will lead people to engage in riskier behaviors.”
One big takeaway from Colorado’s data is that the number of COVID-19 cases is still “very high” lately, especially when compared to last summer’s lows, Buchwald said.
“What people have lost sight of is, can you believe that five years ago there was an infectious disease and 600 people were hospitalized in the state of Colorado?” Said Buchwald. “It doesn’t seem important because we’re so used to it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a big problem.”
She noted that even a person with COVID-19 who is not hospitalized may experience long-term health consequences that some have referred to as “long-term COVID,” she said.
Additionally, more than 700 more deaths could occur in Colorado from early May to late July, even with “high vaccinations” and the current social distancing and wearing of masks, both of which are likely to come off. according to Douglas, the chief of health.
But the decision to lift restrictions is “all about credits and compromises,” said Douglas.
“I think it is likely that if we were completely banned like 13 months ago we would suffer fewer deaths,” said Douglas. He added, “In the extreme, you would not shut down the entire economy to save a life. You’d hate to see a life lost, but that would be a sensible deal, argued Douglas.
Finding out what the right compromise is has been “absolutely excruciating,” he added. What makes the situation easier is the effectiveness of the vaccines, Douglas said.
“I really want to urge anyone who can get this to get it,” Douglas said of the vaccination.
About 48% of all Coloradans are immune from vaccinations or previous infections, while 47% have received at least one dose of vaccine, the state health department said in a May 14 press release.
“Herd immunity” – a term used to describe when enough people become immune that a disease is unlikely to spread – could occur when between 66.7% and 80% of people achieve immunity to COVID-19, according to the Colorado School of Public Health.
Dispute over pandemic
During the Douglas County Commissioners’ meeting on April 13, when they decided to oppose Tri-County Health’s extension of voting restrictions, Commissioner Abe Laydon said he wants residents to “break the deception” that a continuation was required is public health ordinance.
“I want … Douglas County to be the first county in the state to say this pandemic is over,” Laydon said. Laydon said again during a May 11 meeting, “The pandemic is over.”
Douglas, the chief of health, said the comment was “completely inaccurate” from a literal standpoint.
“The pandemic, which means a global epidemic, is far from over,” said Douglas. He added, “I think he was a little hyperbolic to say that Douglas County will not be at risk of the pandemic, we have had enough vaccinations … that interpretation of his remarks is likely true.”
But Douglas doesn’t think the way it’s said was “helpful for the bigger conversation,” he continued.
Buchwald, the researcher at the School of Public Health, said in Colorado, “very clearly, it’s not over” and pointed to the high number of cases.
“I think it’s important to take a step back and realize that there are 600 hospitals in the state of Colorado alone,” Buchwald repeated.
“I wish the pandemic was over too,” said Buchwald, “but wishful thinking is not enough.”