"Make-or-break moment": Denver could face tighter COVID-19 restrictions with cases up

michael hancock
Posted at 2:10 PM, Oct 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-12 16:10:07-04

DENVER — Officials in Denver on Monday were the latest in Colorado to warn that the increasing COVID-19 case and positivity rates in their county could lead to more restrictions on businesses and gatherings if the trend is not turned around soon.

“We’re in another make-or-break moment here,” cautioned Mayor Michael Hancock. “Our city and our residents cannot afford a setback. … In fact, we’re going to say as we did in spring … we need people to stay at home as much as possible to lessen the spread.”

Hancock and Bob McDonald, the executive director for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, noted that the seven-day daily average for cases in the city was 127 per day, which Hancock said was as high as the average was during the height of the pandemic in the city in May.

Hancock said the city’s positivity rate was between 4% and 4.5%.

“Anything over 5 is going to mean a great deal of trouble for us here in Denver,” the mayor said.

Denver's hospitalization rate is on a concerning trend as well, officials said.

On Oct. 3, Denver's 7-day average of hospitalizations was 126. On Monday, that 7-day average had climbed about 37% to 174 hospitalizations.

"We are at a fork in the road," Hancock said, and he outlined potential changes to the city's COVID-19 protocols and restrictions, if the trends in cases and hospitalizations continue into flu season.

Denver is currently under safer-at-home "Level 2" restrictions, with restaurants and businesses able to operate with fewer limits than earlier in the year. If the recent COVID trends continue, the city could revert back to safer-at-home "Level 3" restrictions, which would force restaurants and businesses to cut their capacities in half and could put in-person classes in jeopardy, as Denver Public Schools tries to transition from remote to in-person learning.

McDonald urged residents to "double down" on wearing face coverings in public and staying socially distant.

While Denver remains in the Level 2 phase, like many other counties in the state, the city's two-week incidence rate is 228.9 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, a rate that would push the city into the Level 3 phase, according to state metrics.

Denver's positivity rate and hospitalizations data remain in the state's safest metric, the "Protect Our Neighbors" phase.

Per Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) guidelines, state health officials monitor incidence rates, test positivity rates and trends in hospitalizations to determine if a county’s restrictions are eased or tightened. Those parameters also help determine if they still qualify for variances for public and private events.

Officials around the state have cautioned Coloradans in recent weeks about the rise of COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Jared Polis on Friday said he would be extending state's mask mandate this week, considering the recent uptick in cases but also the trend of more younger people being hospitalized with the virus.

"It shouldn't be controversial," Polis said of wearing a mask. "Think of it this way: If it was a foot infection you could reduce the likelihood of, simply by wearing shoes, you just wear the darn shoes ... If athlete's foot breaks out at your gym, you're probably wearing slippers and sandals for a week or two, so you don't get it. This is longer, and this is higher stakes. This ain't athlete's foot."

Last week the Tri-County Health Department also warned of possible tighter COVID-19 restrictions if cases in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties continued to see a rise in cases .

From Sept. 24 to Oct. 7, the state has seen a rise in cases and hospitalizations due to the novel coronavirus.

In Adams County, 1,420 new cases and 52 new hospitalizations were reported in that time period, while Arapahoe County saw 885 new cases and 39 new hospitalizations. Douglas County saw 400 new cases and eight hospitalizations due to COVID-19.