Denver moves to high COVID-19 community level as more transmissible variants continue to spread unchecked

Arapahoe, Broomfield, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties also under high COVID risk
California face masks
Posted at 5:30 PM, Jun 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-13 11:45:57-04

DENVER – The City and County of Denver is now an area of high transmission of the novel coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s COVID-19 Integrated County View map showed Denver, along with Arapahoe, Broomfield, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties all having levels of high transmission of the virus as of Thursday.

The latest data from the CDC showed Denver reported 350.1 cases and 11.3 new hospitalizations for COVID-19 per 100,000 people. Current CDC metrics classify a county in a high level of transmission for the virus if there are more than 10 new hospitalizations and more than 200 cases per 100,000 people over a 7-day period.

Under a high COVID-19 community level, the CDC recommends people wear masks indoors and on public transit (preferably a high-quality mask like a KN95 or N95), stay up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations, and get tested if they start experiencing cold-like symptoms. People at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should consider taking additional precautions.

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) told Denver7 Friday there will not be a citywide mask mandate to stop the spread of the highly transmissible BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages of the omicron variant since hospitalizations do not appear to be rising at a level that would overwhelm the health care system. It's not clear if any other metro area counties will implement their own mandates to protect the public as they did at the end of last year, when omicron first appeared in Colorado.

"Although CDC community-level has changed, Denver will not be implementing a mask mandate," a DDPHE spokesperson told Denver7 in an email. "As there is greater community spread of the virus, DDPHE encourages residents to understand and utilize the tools available to personally protect themselves from COVID-19. This is our position as we move towards a more endemic phase of COVID-19 in our community."

READ MORE | Here’s where you can get free KN95 masks in Denver

Epidemiologists from across the world have raised concerns that letting the virus spread unchecked without nonpharmaceutical interventions in place, such as mask requirements and social distancing measures, could potentially result in more dangerous mutations of the virus and in long-term economic impacts for communities, as a sizeable portion of the population could end up developing Long COVID.

BA.2.12.1 – the version of omicron most prevalent in Colorado at the moment – is estimated to be approximately 1.2 to 1.5 times more infectious than BA.1, according to several studies, and experts believe its transmissibility is leading to greater immune escape from vaccination or prior infection. Little is known about how severe BA.2.12.1 could be, but studies suggest it is similar to the original omicron variant in terms of virulence, vaccine effectiveness and immune escape.

The BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages are more than four times as likely to escape antibodies in people who've been vaccinated and boosted compared with BA.2 sublineages, health experts told CNN. There is currently no indication they are more severe compared to previous omicron strains, according to the ECDC.

"While we are seeing a generally increasing trend in cases, we believe immunity to COVID-19 is strong throughout the state, and we are currently still within modeling estimates that would generate a significantly smaller peak in the coming weeks than we have seen in some recent waves," a spokesperson with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) told Denver7 in a statement late Thursday afternoon.

Denver’s 7-day average positivity rate as of June 8 was 13.1%, according to the latest city data – more than double of what is recommended by health experts to curb transmission of the virus, though the number is likely an undercount as more people are relying on at-home COVID-19 tests now that community testing sites have largely been shuttered.

Several other Colorado counties are also reporting high levels of COVID-19 transmission, per the CDC. They include Rio Blanco, Garfield, Pitkin, Ouray, San Miguel, San Juan, and La Plata counties.