DENVER — Colorado’s COVID-19 rate is quickly declining, giving health experts new hope for the coming months and leading them to believe it might be possible to drop mask mandates in the metro area in the coming days or weeks.
During a press conference Thursday, state officials spoke at length about the quickly decreasing COVID rates and increasing immunity.
"The model is showing that we estimate about 75% of Coloradans are immune to omicron right now, due both to vaccination and infection, and that we expect this level of immunity to grow over the next few weeks to 80% or higher," said Elizabeth Carlton, an associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and a member of the Colorado COVID modeling team.
State data shows the seven-day positivity rate is still above 10% in most Colorado counties. Carlton predicts even more people will become infected with COVID over coming weeks.
Still, she's optimistic.
"The next few weeks are going to be challenging, but we're hopeful that by late February, early March, and through the spring, things will really look different," Carlton said.
With the data looking better by the day, Denver metro counties are considering dropping mask mandates next week as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline across the state.
The Tri-County Health Department is extending the public health order that mandates masks until Feb. 4 so the board of health can meet to discuss dropping the requirement.
"When omicron hit, it hit like a blizzard. I mean, it just went nuts, and we got to record setting levels within like two to three weeks," said John M. Douglas, Jr., executive director of Tri-County Health Department. "Now it's pretty high, but it is going down incredibly rapidly. It's gone down by about 50% in the past, I think, two weeks. And we project that probably in 10 days, we're going to get down to levels that the CDC considers to be less than high transmission."
Tri-County is still at high positivity levels, reporting 900 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. However, the quickly declining rates along with testing, vaccines and treatment have given Douglas hope.
TCHD said this means it’s possible a mask requirement for schools, childcares and public indoor spaces could end as soon as Feb. 4.
The board of health will hold a special meeting on Jan. 31 at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the possibility of ending the mask mandate.
“While COVID-19 is likely to be with us for years to come and challenging new variants are likely to emerge,” Douglas said, “we are increasingly confident that we have sufficient tools at the present time — high levels of immunity through vaccination and recent infection, an increasing array of better treatments and solid prevention measures through masking, testing and improved ventilation — to allow schools, businesses and other members of the community to implement the protections they feel are most appropriate for their situation.”
The City and County of Denver public health order requiring masks in indoor public spaces is also set to expire next week. Officials said it’s likely the city will let the public health order expire on Feb. 3, but did not provide further details.
Carlton, however, hopes counties will hold off for just a bit longer for the positivity rates to continue to decline before relaxing health rules.
"Right now we're in this critical moment where we think there are a lot of people are infected, so repealing preventative measures now is probably not a good idea. But in the weeks ahead, it could be something that could be on the table," she said.
Recently released estimates from the state’s modeling team indicate that over 40% of Colorado residents have been infected by omicron and that 80% of the state’s population will be immune to omicron by mid-February, according to TCHD.
The current seven-day positivity rate is 22.03%, a significant decrease from the state’s all-time high of 29.02% on Jan. 10.
Colorado is also seeing a decrease in hospitalizations and an improvement in the number of available beds, officials said.
That high immunity will also wane over time as vaccine and antibody effectiveness lessen. Another variant could also pop up.
Even if TCHD decides to relax its public health orders, though, Douglas says it's important for people to continue to be cautious and continue to do things like wash your hands and stay home if you're sick.