DENVER — State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said if Colorado avoids a COVID-19 spike from Christmas and New Year's Eve activity, the state is on track to see numbers similar to the spring in time for school to reopen in January.
The latest state modeling data also projected Colorado could be back down to numbers similar to summer by mid-March if the downward trend continues. This is also when the state hopes to see population level protection from the vaccine, according to Herlihy.
However, a holiday spike in the next week or two could set the state back several weeks on this timeline.
"The most rapid path to reopening, saving lives and in-person learning in January really is preventing a Christmas and New Year's Eve spike," Herlihy said. "We really need Coloradans to step up again, just like they did over Thanksgiving, to help us contain this virus over the next couple of weeks to that make sure we don't see that spike and that we can continue to be on the good trajectory that we've been on for the last couple of weeks."
Herlihy said the best way to continue the downward trend is to only interact with people in your household, maintain six feet of distance from people and wear a mask out in public. The state's website also has winter holiday tips to stay safe.
Colorado's three-day positivity rate has dropped to 7.3%, though it's still above the goal to be below 5%. Gov. Jared Polis said 1 in 59 Coloradans are currently contagious.
Like cases, hospitalization rates are also trending down, but still remain high.
COVID-19 deaths, however, have continued to steadily increase. Half of the COVID-19 deaths in Colorado have occurred in the last two months, according to Herlihy. Health officials anticipated this is due to a lag in death reporting, so they're hopeful the state will see improvements soon.
Past data shows Colorado saw a spike in COVID-19 cases in mid-November, a small increase in cases in early December and since then a continued downward trend over the last two weeks. Even with the improvement, COVID-19 rates continue to be high in most places across the state.
In comparison to the rest of the country, Colorado fared better in avoiding a Thanksgiving spike. Herlihy credits this to the state's response in moving several counties into Level Red on the COVID-19 dial.
With Christmas a week away, Polis encouraged Coloradans to only celebrate with the people in their individual households. He suggested virtual celebrations, especially for families with older relatives or anyone with health conditions that make them more vulnerable. For those gathering with people outside of their households, Polis said they should be in self-quarantine for a total of 10 days before gathering.
"The worst gift that you can give this holiday season is coronavirus," Polis said.