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COVID-19 Denver: Average Cases Have Doubled in Two Weeks

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock as seen in a September 22 video about voting.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock as seen in a September 22 video about voting.

During a September 24 update about COVID-19 in Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald confirmed that increased transmission among college-age individuals isn't only happening in Boulder, which just announced a two-week ban on gatherings of 18- to 22-year-olds that goes into effect at 4 p.m. today. Rising case counts in Denver have resulted in a series of new public-health orders aimed at this particular demographic here, too, including edicts directing college athletes in certain sports, including football, to wear facial coverings while competing.

Meanwhile, McDonald noted that the overall number of Denver residents testing positive has doubled in the past two weeks. "A little non-compliance goes a long way," he notes. "On September 9, our average was 78.4 cases. Now it's 160 cases."

Hancock began the remote press conference by marking "a grim milestone" — the nation's death count surpassing 200,000. "Yesterday," he added, "the head of the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] told Congress 90 percent of the U.S. population is still susceptible to COVID-19. That's a reminder to all of us that we need to stay vigilant and limit the spread of the virus in our community.

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"The City and County of Denver has updated our public-health order to bring us into alignment with the state's new dial system," he continued. "We are currently in level 2, Safer at Home, but we're seeing our case numbers regrettably rise."

Nonetheless, Denver still plans to close the Pepsi Center testing site at the end of September — a decision that was partly financial, Hancock admitted, since the city has not yet received all of the federal dollars meant to fund it. Smaller testing sites will be set up in assorted neighborhoods to compensate for this loss, with one at Paco Sanchez Park, 1290 Knox Court, expected to be among the first to come online. Until then, a special dedicated lane for college students has been set up at the Pepsi Center as a way of encouraging them to get tested.

McDonald then detailed the new public-health orders aimed at those attending post-secondary institutions — among them "mandated health screenings to make sure, to the extent we can, that we don't have campus visitors and students going into various buildings on campus when they might be experiencing symptoms, and expanding our face-covering requirement to include athletes in team settings outdoors."

He emphasized that "when teams can social-distance, they don't need to wear them; tennis players may not have to do that. But with football and other sports, we've seen outbreaks on teams being spread from team member to team member, and we want to get that under control. We don't want to suspend all athletic programs, so we hope face coverings during close-contact sports will get that in check." Also required from here on out will be the wearing of masks for players traveling to and from games — and that also goes for athletes from outside Denver who are taking on local teams within city limits.

Furthermore, universities are required to inform city authorities about COVID-19 cases within 24 hours to expedite contact tracing, McDonald said — and the city is also looking to cut down on "the commingling of students in dorm settings. We want to make sure only students in a dorm are going into the dorm," in an attempt to reduce "transmission in housing settings."

During a question-and-answer session, Hancock pointed out that "what we're seeing at CU" in terms of escalating infections "we're seeing at DU and Regis and on the Auraria campus, to some extent. CU serves as an example of what can happen when young people aren't following protocols."

Thus far, McDonald added, there's no evidence that CU Boulder students are spreading the virus in Denver — but such a possibility will be closely monitored. He stressed that neither high school football players nor professionals such as the Denver Broncos will have to wear masks while playing, because they have not yet been connected with a leap in positive test results — and besides, the state has been in charge of dealing with the Broncos. Still, McDonald acknowledged that a mask rule for high school football players could be implemented if officials start seeing alarming trends among participants.

McDonald hopes that citations for universities and students won't be necessary to ensure compliance with the orders, but that could happen, too, should the data continue to head south.

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