Every Wednesday afternoon since April 2020, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has issued a report listing the number of COVID-19 outbreaks in the state. And every week, the description of what constitutes an outbreak has been consistent.
That ended on June 1, when the CDPHE announced that it had changed the definition of an outbreak, making such a declaration more unlikely as well as more confusing. In essence, officials moved the goalposts before the game was over — and not for the first time. In November, for example, the CDPHE tweaked the state's COVID-19 dial system during a serious flare-up of coronavirus cases by adding a new Purple level that staved off shutdowns; this past March, the department decided to let counties operate at less restrictive standards than their case counts would otherwise have dictated.
This latest change turned the outbreaks data issued on June 2 into a baffling mixed bag, and raised the prospect of lower-level viral spread going unchecked, when previously it would have been monitored by the state.
Why the switch? "We’re starting to see population-level protection from vaccines, and that lessens the risk of disease transmission across the state," says state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. "With an improved testing landscape, especially in settings like schools and summer camps where we typically see a large number of outbreaks, this change allows us to efficiently focus our resources on the outbreak scenarios most likely to impact public health."
The move also makes the state's stats look better — but the outbreak totals were already falling under the old rules.
Until June 1, the CDPHE considered an entity an outbreak after two or more COVID-19 cases among residents, staffers or other people connected to a specific location were confirmed within a fourteen-day period, or two or more cases of respiratory illness with an onset of symptoms within a fourteen-day period were paired with at least one additional COVID-19 diagnosis.
From here on, however, that definition will only apply to residential health-care and correctional facilities, "as outbreaks in these settings may have more severe outcomes," the CDPHE states. But in most other places, including schools, child-care centers, work sites, events, dormitories and non-residential care settings, an outbreak will only be designated after "five or more confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, of which at least one case has had a positive molecular amplification test or antigen test in a facility or (non-household) group with onset in a fourteen-day period."
In other words, more than twice as many cases must be reported before the CDPHE designates a site as an outbreak. And while the department had previously informed the public if a business or school had been linked to between two and four positive diagnoses, that will no longer happen. The June 2 report lists multiple sites with fewer than five cases as outbreaks, but they were all confirmed before the June 1 switch.
The June 2 DCPHE report lists 657 outbreaks under active investigation and 4,769 considered resolved, adding up to 5,426 since the start of the pandemic. That's just forty more than the weekly additions on the May 26 list; 73 outbreaks were added on May 19.
Just ten K-12 schools are listed as having new outbreaks this week, and with summer break coming, such scenarios will become rarer over the next few months. Only eight new outbreaks are noted for health-care facilities, five of which cater to seniors. And a mere three retailers have experienced fresh outbreaks — among them a Walmart in Chaffee County, at which three staffers came down with an infection.
If the CDPHE had learned of that Walmart's situation after the June 1 definition shift, the store would not have qualified as an outbreak at all — and customers would have been none the wiser.
The following list of newly named outbreaks includes the 39 that are currently under active investigation. They're accompanied by the date when the spread was first identified and details about the people impacted.
1. AutoZone Auto Parts #804, Retailer, Weld County, 5/26/2021, 6 staff cases
2. Banning Lewis Ranch Academy, School, K-12, El Paso County, 5/27/2021, 2 attendee cases
3. Bee Hive Homes of Pagosa Springs (23T234), Healthcare, Memory Care, Archuleta County, 5/28/2021, 2 staff cases
4. Big R Holdings, Inc. Corporate Office: May 2021, Office/Indoor Workspace, Pueblo County, 6/1/2021, 3 staff cases
5. Boyd Lightning Co. Retailer, El Paso County, 5/27/2021, 8 staff cases
6. Brookdale Longmont (2303JU): May 2021, Healthcare, Assisted Living, Boulder County, 6/1/2021, 2 staff cases
7. Caprock Academy, School, K-12, Mesa County, 1 staff case, 7 attendee cases
8. City of Boulder — Public Works, Municipal/Local Government, Boulder County, 5/26/2021, 3 staff cases
9. City of Colorado Springs Administration Building, Municipal/Local Government, El Paso County, 5/28/2021, 7 staff cases
10. City of Wheat Ridge Recreation Center, Indoor Entertainment/Rec, Jefferson County, 6/1/2021, 3 staff cases
11. Colorado Springs Police Department — Falcon Division, Law Enforcement, El Paso County, 5/13/2021, 3 staff cases
12. Dolores High School, School, K-12, Montezuma County, 6/1/2021, 4 attendee cases
13. DSST: Montview Middle School, K-12, Denver County, 5/7/2021, 3 attendee cases
14. Durango High School Early Learning Center, Child Care Center, La Plata County, 5/28/2021, 1 staff case, 1 attendee cases
15. Fedex — Henderson, Distribution Center/Business, Adams County, 6/1/2021, 8 staff cases
16. Fedex Ground — Troy Hill Rd, Distribution Center/Business, El Paso County, 5/28/2021, 6 staff cases
17. Go Wireline, Oil Field Industry, Weld County, 5/27/2021, 4 staff cases
18. HighPointe Assisted Living & Memory Care (23M205): May 2021, Healthcare, Assisted Living, Denver County, 6/1/2021, 2 resident cases
19. IBMC — Longmont, Trade School, Boulder, 5/27/2021, 2 staff cases
20. Lucky Dog Resort — South, Dog Boarding, El Paso County, 5/24/2021, 8 staff cases
21. New Creation Preschool: May 2021, Child Care Center, Garfield County, 5/28/2021, 4 staff cases, 4 attendee cases
22. Norwood Public School: May 2021, School, K-12, San Miguel County, 5/27/2021, 1 staff case, 5 attendee cases
23. Periodontal Associates, Healthcare, Outpatient, Arapahoe County, 6/1/2021, 2 staff cases
24. Shandy Clinic Barnes: May 2021, Healthcare, Facility for Developmentally Disabled (Outpatient), El Paso County, 5/26/2021, 5 staff cases
25. Smith Roofing, LLC, Construction Company/Contractor, Summit County, 5/29/2021, 3 staff cases
26. Southeast Colorado Hospital Home Health, Healthcare, Outpatient, Baca County, 5/27/2021, 4 staff cases
27. Sturgeon Electric Suncor Energy, Construction Company/Contractor, Adams County, 5/27/2021, 4 staff cases
28. Summit Professional Services, Construction Company/Contractor, Summit County, 5/27/2021, 3 staff cases
29. Taco Bell Pueblo West (McCulloch Blvd), Restaurant, Fast Food, Pueblo County, 5/18/2021, 2 staff cases
30. Texas Roadhouse Pueblo, Restaurant, Sit Down, Pueblo County, 6/1/2021, 2 staff cases
31. The Classical Academy East Campus: May 2021, School, K-12, El Paso County, 5/28/2021, 4 attendee cases
32. The Vanguard School — High School, School, K-12, El Paso County, 5/26/2021, 2 attendee cases
33. Third Way House Bannock Facility, Mental Health Treatment Center, Arapahoe County, 5/27/2021, 5 resident cases, 1 staff case
34. ViewPointe Senior Living (230541): June 2021, Healthcare, Assisted Living, El Paso County, 6/1/2021, 2 resident cases, 1 staff case
35. Villages at Woodmen Apts. Leasing Office, Apartment Complex, El Paso County, 5/13/2021, 2 staff cases
36. Vista Mesa Assisted Living (23123I): May 2021, Healthcare, Assisted Living, Montezuma County, 5/26/2021, 2 resident cases
37. Walmart #921: May 2021, Retailer, Chaffee County, 5/26/2021, 3 staff cases
38. Wells & West General Contractors: May 2021, Construction Company/Contractor, El Paso County, 5/24/2021, 4 staff cases
39. West Star Aviation: June 2021, Aircraft Maintenance and Restoration, Mesa County, 5/31/2021, 6 staff cases, 1 attendee case
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