COVID-19: Level Red Places Closest to Level Purple Shutdowns Today

La Junta is the largest community in Otero County, whose region currently has no ICU beds available.
La Junta is the largest community in Otero County, whose region currently has no ICU beds available. YouTube
For the third consecutive week, the overwhelming majority of counties in the state are at Level Red (Severe) on the COVID-19 dial dashboard maintained by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. And while some data is improving, if only marginally, in many counties, others are on the cusp of moving to Level Purple (Extreme), a designation that would trigger a return to stay-at-home orders, because they're in a region — in this case, Colorado's extreme southeast corner — that has no intensive-care unit beds available as of December 16.

Counties land at Level Red if their two-week cumulative incidence rate is over 350 — and many sections of metro Denver, among other areas in Colorado, have surpassed that statistic by multiples of two, three or even more. But they don't enter Level Purple unless hospitals in their area have exceeded capacity.

Public-health officials had worried about case counts skyrocketing around two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday, but so far, a mega-surge hasn't happened. In fact, the new incidence rate on December 16 shows a decline in all but one of the counties along the urban corridor since December 9, the date of our previous report on this subject.

Still, the numbers aren't particularly reassuring. Here are current incidence rates in Colorado counties near the Front Range, in ascending order.
Gilpin County — Down (from 386.2 on December 9 to 289.6 on December 16)
Park County — Down (from 398 on December 9 to 392.7 on December 16)
Clear Creek County — Down (from 451.7 on December 9 to 420.9 on December 16)
Boulder County — Down (from 670.3 on December 9 to 526 on December 16)
Broomfield County — Down (from 647.2 on December 9 to 546.9 on December 16)
Douglas County — Down (from 864.8 on December 9 to 747.6 on December 16)
Larimer County — Down (from 819.2 on December 9 to 768.2 on December 16)
Denver County — Down (from 887.6 on December 9 to 772 on December 16)
Elbert County — Down (from 790.7 on December 9 to 775.7 on December 16)
Jefferson County — Down (from 968.8 on December 9 to 828.7 on December 16)
Teller County — Up (from 694.1 on December 9 to 832.2 on December 16)
Arapahoe County — Down (from 955.1 on December 9 to 850.9 on December 16)
Summit County — Down (from 1197.4 on December 9 to 968.3 on December 16)
Weld County — Down (from 1096.2 on December 9 to 981.3 on December 16)
Adams County — Down (from 1207.8 on December 9 to 1027.1 on December 16)
El Paso County — Down (from 1186.6 on December 9 to 1054.8 on December 16)
Pueblo County — Down (from 1841.7 on December 9 to 1591.2 on December 16)
Improved incidence rates have been registered in other parts of the state, too, but the shifts are far less consistent. Not including counties listed above, 24 counties registered rates above 1,000 on December 9; a week later, there are 22, with the topper nearly five times that high.

In ascending order:
Moffatt County — 1041.4
Yuma County — 1013.6
Pitkin County — 1092.6
Montezuma County — 1078
Mesa County — 1050.1
Archuleta County — 1235.5
Rio Blanco County — 1252.6
Kit Carson County — 1318.7
Montrose County — 1265.1
Dolores County — 1227.3
Garfield County — 1341.2
Cheyenne County — 1260.3
Baca County — 1181.1
Delta County — 1379.4
Fremont County — 1469.2
Lincoln County — 1721.7
Prowers County — 1748.9
Kiowa County — 2078.9
Crowley County — 2430.8
Logan County — 2455.1
Otero County — 3451.7
Bent County — 4967.2
Just six of Colorado's 64 counties sit below Level Red on the dial. San Juan, Hinsdale, Mineral and Sedgwick are at Level Green (Protect Your Neighbors), owing to fewer than eight cases apiece over the previous two weeks, while Gilpin moved from Level Red to Level Orange after registering an incidence rate of 289.6.

Another key stat is 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 9, sixteen counties were in this range. On December 16, however, that number dipped to eleven.

Here are the Level Red positivity-rate counties, ranked in ascending order:
Grand County — 15.4 percent
Rio Blanco County — 15.4 percent
Dolores County — 15.5 percent
Moffatt County — 16.6 percent
Elbert County — 16.7 percent
Prowers County — 18.0 percent
Bent County — 18.1 percent
Jackson County — 20.0 percent
Otero County — 20.9 percent
Custer County — 21.4 percent
Lincoln County — 30.1 percent 
To determine the critical hospital capacity status, the CDPHE has divided the state into eleven sectors. The Southeast region is at 0 percent ICU bed availability on December 16, and all of the counties within it — Baca, Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero and Prowers — have extremely elevated incidence rates. As a result, those counties are now in danger of Level Purple shutdowns.

Fortunately, the other ten sections of Colorado have capacity remaining — even the West, which had been at 0 percent ICU bed availability on December 9, but now is back up to 25 percent.

This last example demonstrates that the figures can change quickly, but sometimes for awful reasons — including fatalities. Over the two-day period from December 13 to December 15, deaths due to COVID-19 rose by 206, or an average of more than a hundred per day. Such figures haven't been seen since the early days of the pandemic, and they offer proof that, despite optimism generated by the arrival of initial vaccine doses in Colorado this week, the battle against the disease is very far from being won.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts