COVID-19 Level Red Counties at Risk of Level Purple Shutdowns Now

Montrose, on Colorado's Western Slope, is a Level Red County whose district has nearly exhausted its supply of ICU beds.
Montrose, on Colorado's Western Slope, is a Level Red County whose district has nearly exhausted its supply of ICU beds.
City of Montrose via YouTube
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What a difference eight days can make. In just over a week, the COVID-19 case totals in many counties designated as Level Red on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's dial dashboard have edged lower, though not by nearly enough to make officials breathe easy. And in at least two major areas of the state, the supply of intensive-care unit beds is completely or almost exhausted, raising the possibility of some Level Red counties being moved up to Level Purple shutdowns by the CDPHE.

We compared current data with numbers from December 1, when we offered our first look at counties on the cusp of Level Purple. Once again, only five of Colorado's 64 counties are below Level Red: Ouray is at Level Orange, with a two-week cumulative COVID-19 case count of 344.5 — Level Red begins at 350 — and San Juan, Jackson, Hinsdale and Mineral sit at Level Green, having registered fewer than eight cases apiece during the past two weeks. Of these four, Mineral has enjoyed the most marked improvement; on December 1, its case count was calculated at an astronomical 1,963.4.

The numbers for most Level Red counties in or near the urban corridor are better, too, though not by nearly as much. We've ranked them in ascending order and noted whether their case counts went up, down or stayed the same from December 1 to December 9:

Gilpin County — Unchanged (386.2 on both December 1 and December 9)
Park County — Up (from 360.9 on December 1 to 398 on December 9)
Clear Creek County — Down (from 482.5 on December 1 to 451.7 on December 9)
Broomfield County — Down (from 678.3 on December 1 to 647.2 on December 9)
Boulder County — Down (from 759.9 on December 1 to 670.3 on December 9)
Teller County — Down (from 903.2 on December 1 to 694.1 on December 9)
Elbert County — Up (from 715.7 on December 1 to 790.7 on December 9)
Larimer County — Down (from 857.6 on December 1 to 819.2 on December 9)
Douglas County — Down (from 933.9 on December 1 to 864.8 on December 9)
Denver County — Down (from 1076.1 on December 1 to 887.6 on December 9)
Arapahoe County — Down (from 982.6 on December 1 to 955.1 on December 9)
Jefferson County — Up (from 957.7 on December 1 to 968.8 on December 9)
Weld County — Down (from 1186.7 on December 1 to 1096.2 on December 9)
El Paso County — Up (from 1153.9 on December 1 to 1186.6 on December 9)
Summit County — Down (from 1201.3 on December 1 to 1197.4 on December 9)
Adams County — Down (from 1260.3 on December 1 to 1207.8 on December 9)
Pueblo County — Down (from 2013 on December 1 to 1841.7 on December 9)

The news is worse in other parts of the state, where many counties have now hit quadruple digits for case counts. Here are the 24 with two-week cumulative incidence rates over 1,000 as of December 9:

Rio Blanco County — 1014.7
Montezuma County — 1016.8
San Miguel County — 1027.6
Morgan County — 1028.2
Garfield County — 1037.1
Alamosa County — 1069.2
La Plata County — 1069.8
Delta County — 1151.6
Mesa County — 1179.9
Kiowa County — 1218.6
Montrose County — 1225.5
Dolores County — 1227.3
Archuleta County — 1278.4
Huerfano County — 1386.1
Cheyenne County — 1589
Baca County — 1631
Prowers County — 1790.1
Fremont County — 1813.4
Bent County — 1880
Washington County — 1961.2
Logan County — 2290.8
Otero County — 3096.1
Lincoln County — 5059.7
Crowley County — 5586.9

There's also a Level Red standard for the positivity rate, defined 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." Anything over a 15 percent two-week average pushes a county into the red, and as of December 1, thirteen Colorado counties qualified. Eight days later, two of those counties (Pueblo and Morgan) had moved lower, to Level Orange, but the other eleven remain at Level Red — where they've been joined by five more. Here are the sixteen, along with information about whether the rates have risen, fallen or remained static:

Kiowa (15.1 percent on December 9)
El Paso County (15.1 percent on December 9)
Weld County — Unchanged (15.6 percent on December 1 and December 9)
Logan County (15.9 percent on December 9)
Moffat County — Down (from 19.5 percent on December 1 to 16 percent on December 9)
Montrose County — Up (from 15.8 percent on December 1 to 16.2 percent on December 9)
Lake County — Down (from 16.7 percent on December 1 to 16.6 percent on December 9)
Elbert County — Up (from 15.3 percent on December 1 to 16.6 percent on December 9)
Grand County — Down (from 20.3 percent on December 1 to 17.8 percent on December 9)
Custer (18.5 percent on December 9)
Rio Blanco County — Down (from 19.9 percent on December 1 to 18.1 percent on December 9)
Washington County — Down (from 21.5 percent on December 1 to 20.2 percent on December 9)
Otero County — Down (from 21.3 percent on December 1 to 20.8 percent on December 9)
Prowers County — Down (from 25.4 percent on December 1 to 21.7 percent on December 9)
Dolores County — Up (from 16.7 percent on December 1 to 24.4 percent on December 9)
Lincoln County (33.6 percent on December 9) 

Montrose County is at Level Red in both cases and positivity rate — and unfortunately, it's also in trouble in ICU bed availability, as measured by the Regional Emergency Medical and Trauma Services Advisory Councils (RETAC). The CDPHE is using this last factor as the one that triggers a Level Purple designation, should capacity be exceeded and mitigation prove ineffective.

Under this last metric, the state health department has divided Colorado up into eleven sectors, and the one in the most danger right now is the West, which had 0 percent ICU bed availability on December 9. The Level Red counties in the West section include Montrose, Delta and San Miguel.

ICU bed availability is also more than 80 percent gone in four other parts of the state whose counties are all at Level Red: the South, including Pueblo, Custer and Fremont (9 percent), the Foothills, including Grand, Boulder and Gilpin (13 percent), the Central Mountains, including Eagle, Summit and Park (14 percent), and Plains to Peak, including Lincoln, Cheyenne and Kiowa (18 percent).

No stay-at-home orders have been issued for any of these counties, and they won't be unless the CDPHE determines that hospital capacity will never be restored without such an edict. But with Christmas season coming, such a prospect certainly isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

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