COVID-19: How Colorado Springs Became a Viral Hot Spot

A sign on view in downtown Colorado Springs last month.
A sign on view in downtown Colorado Springs last month. Photo by Michael Roberts
The COVID-19 crisis has hit some parts of Colorado harder than others — and of those spots that seemed to have avoided the toughest blows, the most surprising may have been El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs.

That county briefly led Colorado in deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus as a result of an outbreak at a bridge tournament there in early March; the Colorado Department of Public Health calculated ten positive cases, fourteen probable cases and four COVID-19 deaths connected to the event. But in the months that followed, the statistics became much less dire, despite a lack of buy-in related to facial coverings among residents of Colorado's center for conservatism, which we noted in our May 27 field report "Colorado Springs Says FU to Masks." At the time of that post, despite its early COVID-19 cases and sizable population, El Paso County was in the middle of the Colorado pack in terms of COVID-19 cases.

What a difference a few weeks makes. During a June 24 press conference, Governor Jared Polis pointed out that El Paso County has recently experienced spikes of the novel coronavirus, as have San Miguel and Eagle counties and locations in the San Luis Valley. It's now clearly one of the viral hot spots in the state, and if the trend isn't reversed, it could contribute to Colorado joining neighbors such as Arizona and Utah, which have seen case counts rising to worrisome levels.

The change is documented by an online tool developed by the New York Times. Four weeks ago, El Paso County registered 230 COVID-19 diagnoses per 100,000 residents. As of June 24, the Times puts El Paso County at 316 positives per 100,000 residents, a 37 percent increase. And its seven-day average of cases is calculated at 25, well above the seventeen of two weeks ago — hence the hot-spot designation.

Also trending in the wrong direction are previous standout Mesa County (1.7 per 100,000 on June 24, 0.9 two weeks ago), Alamosa County (6.7 versus 4.0 two weeks ago), Pitkin County (1.6 versus 1.0 two weeks ago), Garfield County (6.3 versus 2.7 two weeks ago), Eagle County (4.7 versus 2.6 two weeks ago), Denver County (47 versus 36 two weeks ago) and the current cellar-dweller, party-happy Boulder County (24 versus 5.1 two weeks ago).

More details can be found on El Paso County Public Health's COVID-19 web page, one of the most thorough and useful in the state.

click to enlarge This June 24 graphic shows the number of COVID-19 cases per day in El Paso County based on a one-week rolling average. - EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
This June 24 graphic shows the number of COVID-19 cases per day in El Paso County based on a one-week rolling average.
Today, June 25, that site lists 2,208 cases in the county, along with 298 hospitalizations, 121 deaths, 1,805 patient recoveries and 29,061 tests to date — and the seven-day rolling average for cases has been looking shakier recently. The 57 positive cases counted on June 18 tied with April 8 for the most in a single day, and the agency listed 44 on June 23.

Overall hospitalization numbers in El Paso County remain low; there were three on June 22, but none on both of the next two days. Still, COVID-19 deaths, which have been gradually descending in most sections of Colorado, have flared up of late, particularly on June 16, when there were eight fatalities — a tragic contrast to the period between May 28 and June 15, when most days were casualty-free. There were also two deaths on June 18 and June 22, respectively, and one yesterday, June 24.

Another distressing metric: cases per 100,000 residents over the previous fourteen days. El Paso County's figure on June 24 was 41.6, a jump of around 40 percent from the 25.77 on June 14. The overall high point was 58.54, on May 28.

EPCPH also counts case rates per 1,000 residents for individual cities within the county, and Colorado Springs's 3.87 is in second place, behind Monument, at 6.72.

This deterioration certainly can't be ascribed to a disinterest in Colorado Springs mask usage alone; there are undoubtedly many contributing factors. But the spikes currently popping up are as plain as a nose on an uncovered face.
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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