The Fourth of July weekend is an annual celebration of America and Americana. But this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it was accompanied by concerning developments on a number of fronts.
Both confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and hospitalizations caused by it are way up in Colorado over recent weeks, with the latter hitting its highest mark in nearly a month on Sunday, July 5. Meanwhile, legal actions are being pursued against the owners of Bandimere Speedway over an event on July 4 that included one of the biggest fireworks display in metro Denver, which officials at Jefferson County Public Health say violated safety rules put in place by a judge days before the event.
Here's a summary of COVID-19 data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, updated at 4 p.m. on July 5:
352,758 People Tested
1,701 Deaths among cases
1,521 Deaths due to COVID-19
On July 4, the most recent date listed, the CDPHE reported 235 new cases of COVID-19. That figure is significantly lower than the totals for the preceding two days — 293 on July 2 and 280 on July 3 — but it's much higher than the 128 cases registered on June 15, the low point for last month after a long and steady decline that's been reversed in the weeks since then.
Hospitalization data, which focuses on infected individuals with the most serious symptoms, is even more concerning. On July 5, the CDPHE notes, 171 people testing positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized, not counting 112 people under investigation for viral symptoms. That's a significant increase from the 155 COVID-19 positive individuals hospitalized on July 4 and the most admitted for treatment at a medical facility since 182 on June 10.
These totals are far from the single-day peaks for cases (726 on April 25) and hospitalizations (888 on April 14) in Colorado. But they're a clear indication that the two curves continue to point in the wrong direction.
Could the July 4 fireworks extravaganza at Bandimere Speedway add to these amounts? Officials at Jefferson County Public Health are worried about that prospect, as is clear from this statement released on July 5:
Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) has been closely monitoring the situation at Bandimere Speedway, and we are disappointed in the organization’s ability to limit and manage the crowd size, implement social distancing requirements and adhere to Colorado’s Public Health Order 20-28 at the Jet Car Nationals event yesterday.
JCPH and Bandimere agreed to clear, court-ordered requirements leading up to the event, with the intention of permitting a well-controlled event to proceed. While Bandimere said they would comply prior to the event, those requirements were violated.
"We want our businesses, who are pillars in our community, to be able to safely operate," said Dr. Mark B. Johnson, MD, MPH, Executive Director of JCPH. "At the same time, we are dealing with the most significant public health crisis of our lifetime, and cases of the virus are already starting to increase again in Jeffco. We are proud that the large majority of our local businesses are working diligently to keep themselves and others safe. However, when one business does not, it compromises the health and economy of our entire community."
To clarify a requirement in the order, gatherings in outdoor venues in excess of 175 people per designated activity are banned. This does not mean the entire event itself was limited to 175 guests. However, representatives from JCPH who attended the event collected evidence that this requirement was still violated.
JCPH, in collaboration with the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, will pursue appropriate legal actions to address this violation.
Bandimere Speedway representatives haven't responded to these allegations. But at 5:55 p.m. on July 5, more than seven hours after JCPH tweeted out the statement, the track shared this post on its Facebook page: "The Bandimere staff and family want to thank everyone for their support of the Brakes Plus Jet Car Nationals 'Freedom Rally.' We can’t even begin to describe how much we appreciate the racers, fans, sponsors and our staff members for standing by our side. Thank you for spending your Independence Day with us celebrating our freedom the best way we know how."
In advance of the holiday, Governor Jared Polis had sent a message to Coloradans about the COVID-19 fight. "I am proud that Colorado is doing better than our neighboring states both on virus suppression and economic recovery," he wrote. "That’s a testament to the people of this state doing their part: wearing masks, socially distancing, protecting vulnerable populations, and practicing proper hygiene. But that doesn’t mean that we can get comfortable. Over the past two weeks, cases have been rising slowly — slower than most of our neighboring states, to be sure, but still rising."
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