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An aerial view of Colorado Springs, the most populous city in El Paso County.
An aerial view of Colorado Springs, the most populous city in El Paso County.

COVID-19: Spikes in Major Colorado Counties and Their Responses

During a July 14 press conference about the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Jared Polis warned that if residents don't redouble their efforts to follow public-health guidelines designed to prevent the spread of the disease, Colorado will experience the sort of exponential growth in cases and hospitalizations being seen in states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.

These warnings echo in three major Colorado counties — Jefferson, Boulder and El Paso — where positive rates have climbed during July. But the county responses vary.

Jefferson County has now issued an emergency order requiring all residents to wear facial coverings in public. In Boulder County, which already had some of the state's strictest mask regulations, officials are raising alarms about significant community spread. And while El Paso County has no requirement for mask usage, several cities within it, including ultra-conservative Colorado Springs, are considering adopting such rules.

Here are the latest cumulative COVID-19 figures for Jefferson County:

Cases: 3,118
Deaths: 217
Ever Hospitalized: 444
Currently Hospitalized: 14
Recovered: 2,660

The county's case summary page provides some of the state's most detailed public information regarding daily trends. Thus far, Jeffco's peak date was April 23, which lists 65 recovered cases and thirteen deaths that day. Both metrics dipped in the weeks that followed, only to rise again this month. For July 9, authorities count 36 infectious cases, 13 recovered case and one hospitalization. On July 13, there were 31 infectious cases, one recovered case and two deaths.

Jefferson County Public Health offers more data. During the week of June 14, the county registered 76 new cases, the lowest number since the beginning of March. But the amount more than tripled the week of July 5, which topped out at 230 cases.

With these worrisome developments in mind, JCPH issued an emergency public health order effective at 5 p.m. July 14, which requires every Jeffco resident to wear a mask or cloth facial covering in public settings when unable to maintain social distancing of at least six feet from others.

"As cases have started to increase sharply across the Denver metro area and in Jefferson County, we are looking at the tools we have to prevent the surges that are happening in other parts of our country, including bordering states, from happening here," noted JCPH executive director Dr. Mark B. Johnson in a statement announcing the order. "While we have always strongly encouraged our residents to wear face coverings, we are joining others in the Denver metro area to take it a step further and make them mandatory."

At its regularly scheduled meeting on July 21, the Jefferson County Board of Health will determine whether this order should be amended or extended.

Back in mid-June, Boulder County explained a case-count leap by pointing to Memorial Day bashes and late May graduation parties. But such factors don't explain the 25 new cases calculated on July 13 — the most since that peak a month ago. And this round, fewer than a quarter of those who tested positive were college students.

Here are the cumulative COVID-19 stats for Boulder County as of July 14:

Tested Positive or considered Probable for COVID-19, to date: 1,572
Hospitalized due to COVID-19, to date: 178
Recovered: 617
Disease investigation currently in progress: 113
Deceased with COVID-19: 74

According to Boulder County data, on July 12 there were 13 new cases, 25 the next day, and 9 on July 14. And even as the numbers swing, so do possible explanations for the increases. "Transmission seems to be limited person-to-person and within the community, but residents have also reported recent travel out-of-state and to Colorado mountain communities during their interviews with our disease investigators," says Emily Payne, a data epidemiologist for Boulder County Public Health, in a statement.

Adds Carol Helwig, a BCPH communicable-disease control program manager: "We are seeing an explosion of new cases in many of the states around Colorado. If we want to avoid going backwards, every single one of us needs to do what we can: Stay home if you can, and if you must go out, please be very diligent about social distancing, wearing a face covering, and washing your hands."

The scenario in El Paso County is even worse than in Boulder and Jefferson counties. In late May, we spotted few people in downtown Colorado Springs wearing masks — and by mid-June, the community had become one of the state's viral hot spots. Moreover, the county isn't close to abandoning this ignominious status, as demonstrated by this El Paso County Health graphic showing the incidence of positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents at their highest point to date.

Here are the July 14 figures for the novel coronavirus in El Paso County:

3,224 cases
355 hospitalizations
118 deaths
2,306 recovered

As for daily trends, the 124 new cases on July 9 set a record for El Paso County, though the totals have seesawed from there: 75 on July 10, 62 on July 11, 46 on July 12, 68 on July 13 and 15 on July 14 (but this appears to be a partial total).

The swings have certainly caught the attention of El Paso County officials, as witnessed by an alert delivered at a July 14 county commissioners' meeting: Should the numbers fail to moderate over the next fourteen days, state variances that have allowed the opening of restaurants, churches and more might be withdrawn.

And in response to the growing number of cases, at least five members of Colorado Springs City Council are reportedly considering some kind of mask requirement.

There's no telling how such an edict would go over in Colorado Springs, where facial coverings have been thoroughly politicized. But that one is even on the table is an indication of how much ground has been lost in the fight against COVID-19.

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