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Worsening Colorado COVID-19 Data Could Lead To Rule-Tightening Again

These pods at My Brother's Bar have built-in forced-air heaters.
These pods at My Brother's Bar have built-in forced-air heaters.
Mark Antonation
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On March 24, the State of Colorado officially launched Dial 3.0, a new round of COVID-19 rules that made it easier for counties to loosen restrictions enacted to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. But rising metrics are already threatening those gains in at least three major counties, and the latest statewide numbers are worsening, too, with the number of new cases up by more than 1,000 over the previous week's increase.

These stats put new pressure on Governor Jared Polis — who has consistently said that the state's moves are driven by data, not politics — to justify continued easing of COVID policies such as the long-running mask mandate, which expires on April 4. Last week, the state announced that as of this coming Sunday, Level Green counties could drop facial covering requirements for everyone except eleven-to-eighteen-year-olds in school; Level Blue, Yellow, Orange and Red counties could do likewise for everyone other than that same group of students and those in indoor public places occupied by ten or more people.

Such changes are unlikely to happen immediately in Pitkin, Jefferson and Summit counties. Pitkin County moved back to Level Orange standards on March 24 — the same day that Jeffco admitted that it is "at risk of being moved to Level Yellow if the county’s seven-day COVID-19 case incidence does not improve." And in recent days, reports suggest that a spring break spike has Summit County at the risk of moving to Level Orange, too.

Against that backdrop, here are the most recent figures from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, refreshed after 4 p.m. yesterday, March 28. We've juxtaposed them with information from March 21, highlighted in our last COVID-19 roundup:

458,554 cases up (up 7,924 from March 21)
787 variants of concern (up 215 from March 21)
20 variants under investigation (up 9 from March 21)
25,351 hospitalizations (up 861 from March 21)
64 counties (unchanged from March 21)
6,092 deaths among cases (up 19 from March 21)
6,196 deaths due to COVID-19 (up 47 from March 21)
4,235 outbreaks (up 78 from March 21)

Four major takeaways:

• The number of new COVID-19 cases jumped significantly over the past seven days. The 7,924 gain from March 21 to March 28 is 1,262 more than the 6.662 hike over the same period a week earlier.
• The 861 new hospitalizations over the previous seven days include 514 added in a single clump because of tweaks to Banner Health’s COVID-19 data reporting system. But subtracting those still leaves 347 more hospitalizations, a considerable leap from the 296 noted on March 21.
• New outbreaks are essentially static: 77 on March 21, 78 on March 28.
• The most important figures — deaths attributed to COVID-19 — offer the brightest glimmer of hope, falling from 77 on March 21 to 47 on March 28. But fatalities are a lagging stat that tends to reflect conditions as they were a few weeks ago, not current concerns.

And then there are variants of concern, which include the so-called California strain that investigators now classify as worrisome. The 215 case rise pushed concerning variants to 787 cases.

As for new COVID-19 cases, they topped 1,000 on six of the past ten days:

March 27 — 901 Cases
March 26 — 1,100 Cases
March 25 — 1,209 Cases
March 24 — 1,142 Cases
March 23 — 1,112 Cases
March 22 — 1,252 Cases
March 21 — 234 Cases
March 20 — 861 Cases
March 19 — 1,275 Cases
March 18 — 1,712 Cases

Another potential problem area involves the positivity rate, shorthanded by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins as "the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that are actually positive, or: (positive tests)/(total tests) x 100 percent." Officials become anxious whenever the rate tops 5 percent, and the March 28 total is moving toward that threshold, at 4.38 percent. (A week earlier, the rate was 3.69 percent.) But at least the previous week's outpatient syndromic COVID-19 visits slid a bit, from 3.92 percent on March 21 to 2.96 percent on March 28.

Hospitalizations are at similar or slightly higher levels than on March 21, as measured by both all patients admitted for treatment and those checking in on a daily basis:

Patients Currently Hospitalized for COVID-19

March 28, 2021
375 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
323 (86 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
52 (14 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 27, 2021
365 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
325 (89 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
40 (11 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 26, 2021
361 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
319 (88 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
42 (12 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 25, 2021
357 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
311 (87 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
46 (13 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 24, 2021
367 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
304 (83 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
63 (17 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 23, 2021
349 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
317 (91 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
32 (9 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 22, 2021
365 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
329 (90 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
36 (10 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 21, 2021
369 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
333 (90 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
36 (10 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 20, 2021
363 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
328 (90 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
35 (10 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 19, 2021
370 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
331 (89 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
39 (11 percent) Persons Under Investigation

New Hospital Admissions by Admission Date

March 28, 2021
35 patients admitted to the hospital
51 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 27, 2021
46 patients admitted to the hospital
51 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 26, 2021
55 patients admitted to the hospital
47 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 25, 2021
67 patients admitted to the hospital
48 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 24, 2021
47 patients admitted to the hospital
47 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 23, 2021
45 patients admitted to the hospital
50 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 22, 2021
62 patients admitted to the hospital
50 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 21, 2021
38 patients admitted to the hospital
52 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 20, 2021
18 patients admitted to the hospital
53 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 19, 2021
62 patients admitted to the hospital
58 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

Dial 3.0 is one of many ways in which Colorado has been telling the public that the COVID-19 situation has been improving. But many of the actual numbers add up to a different story.

By the way, Polis has scheduled a press conference about COVID-19 at 10:30 a.m. today, March 29 — his first in more than a week. How he frames the latest data should prove fascinating.

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