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COVID Dial 3.0 May Be Easing Up, But Most Virus Data Isn't

Signs like this one outside a RiNo eatery could soon become a thing of the past.EXPAND
Signs like this one outside a RiNo eatery could soon become a thing of the past.
Photo by Michael Roberts
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Late on March 19, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced impending changes to the state's dial dashboard, dubbed Dial 3.0, that will likely result in COVID-19 restrictions being eased in many counties as soon as Wednesday, March 24. And mask mandates could be removed in some parts of Colorado as soon as April 4.

Governor Jared Polis has consistently said that all of the decisions he makes regarding the fight against the novel coronavirus are driven by data, not politics. But the latest statistics posted by the CDPHE aren't notably better than they were last week, when Polis warned that numbers had plateaued at a level higher than officials would like. Some of the stats are actually worse: Hospitalizations are up, and one recent day saw the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in more than a month.

Here are the latest figures, updated after 4 p.m. on March 21. We've juxtaposed them with numbers from March 14, highlighted in our last COVID-19 roundup:

450,630 cases (up 6,662 from March 14)
572 variants of concern (up 260 from March 14)
11 variants under investigation (down 185 from March 14)
24,490 hospitalizations (up 290 from March 14)
64 counties (unchanged from March 14)
6,073 deaths among cases (up 35 from March 14)
6,149 deaths due to COVID-19 (up 77 from March 14)
4,157 outbreaks (up 77 from March 14)

Four major takeaways:

• The number of new COVID-19 cases dipped from 7,366 to 6,662 — a good sign, but not a definitive one, since the recent blizzard may have slowed the pace of diagnoses.
• Hospitalization counts are essentially static. March 14 marked a jump of 296 over the previous week, while March 21 registered 290 over seven days.
• In contrast, outbreaks took a sizable tumble, from 111 on March 14 to 77 on March 21. But again, that major snowstorm could be a factor, leading to a delayed count.
• The most important figures — deaths attributed to COVID-19 — are stuck in place. On March 21, 77 casualties were added to the roster, the same number as on November 14.

Variants of concern more than doubled over the past seven days, from 260 to 572. The biggest reason: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that there are legitimate risks related to the so-called California strain that the CDPHE had previously listed in the separate "variants under investigation" category.

Meanwhile, the number of new COVID cases fell beneath 300 on March 14 and March 15 — levels not seen for months. But those counts were certainly storm-related, because the totals soared days later, peaking on March 18 with 1,638 positive tests. That's the highest number since the 1,895 recorded on February 4. Here's the rundown for the previous ten days:

March 20 — 712 Cases
March 19 — 1,166 Cases
March 18 — 1,638 Cases
March 17 — 1,258 Cases
March 16 — 707 Cases
March 15 — 286 Cases
March 14 — 297 Cases
March 13 — 1,044 Cases
March 12 — 1,200 Cases
March 11 — 1,107 Cases

The positivity rate is shorthanded 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." The 3.69 percent calculated on March 21 is slightly lower than the 3.78 percent from a week earlier, but well above the 3.13 percent from March 7, and the previous week's outpatient syndromic COVID-19 visits of 3.92 percent was unchanged.

The same can't be said for patients currently hospitalized with a suspected infection. That metric had fallen beneath the 300 threshold, but it's now well above that level and nearly hit 400 again on March 18. Daily admissions over the past ten days:

Patients Currently Hospitalized for COVID-19

March 21, 2021
369 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
333 (90 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
36 (10 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 20, 2021
363 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
328 (90 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
35 (10 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 19, 2021
370 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
331 (89 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
39 (11 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 18, 2021
395 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
337 (85 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
58 (15 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 17, 2021
380 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
345 (91 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
35 (9 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 16, 2021
388 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
341 (88 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
47 (12 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 15, 2021
369 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
328 (89 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
41 (11 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 14, 2021
324 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
283 (87 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
41 (13 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 13, 2021
343 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
293 (85 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
50 (15 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 12, 2021
346 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
303 (88 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
43 (12 percent) Persons Under Investigation

New Hospital Admissions by Admission Date

March 21, 2021
36 patients admitted to the hospital
50 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 20, 2021
14 patients admitted to the hospital
51 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 19, 2021
60 patients admitted to the hospital
57 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 18, 2021
57 patients admitted to the hospital
58 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 17, 2021
62 patients admitted to the hospital
55 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 16, 2021
49 patients admitted to the hospital
55 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 15, 2021
73 patients admitted to the hospital
52 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 14, 2021
42 patients admitted to the hospital
49 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 13, 2021
54 patients admitted to the hospital
51 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 12, 2021
66 patients admitted to the hospital
51 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

Despite the uneven hospitalization numbers, the CDPHE is moving ahead with plans to update the state's dial dashboard. Here are the changes as described in the 3.0 Dial draft:

• "The metrics for Level Green: Protect Our Neighbors have changed, making it easier for counties to achieve Protect Our Neighbors status. Now, counties can apply for Protect Our Neighbors if they have up to 35 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people — up from 15 cases."

• "The metrics range for Level Blue is now 36-100 cases per 100,000 people."

• "Most restrictions in Level Green: Protect Our Neighbors are now removed. Bars, gyms, and indoor events must still adhere to a 50 percent capacity limit or a 500-person cap, whichever is fewer."

• "Bars can now open under Level Blue. The capacity limit is 25 percent capacity or 75 people, whichever is fewer."

• "Outdoor events in Levels Green and Blue no longer have capacity restrictions under the dial. Counties may choose to implement capacity restrictions on outdoor events at the local level."

• "Retail, offices, and non-critical manufacturing in Level Blue may now open to 75 percent capacity, up from 50 percent."

• "There is no longer a state limit on personal gathering sizes. The state will follow CDC’s guidance on personal gatherings. The CDC still strongly recommends avoiding larger gatherings and crowds to prevent the spread of COVID-19."

• "5 Star Businesses in Level Blue can operate up to 60 percent capacity, not to exceed 50 people above the caps for restaurants and indoor events and 25 people above the cap for gyms."

According to the CDPHE, mask orders may be moderated on April 4 in Level Green and Level Blue counties. In Level Green counties, mandates would remain for schools and visitors to senior centers, as well as other situations. In Level Blue, the mask rules would still apply to indoor settings with ten or more people, such as businesses, but would be much relaxed otherwise.

The CDPHE uses the upswing in vaccinations to justify the Dial 3.0 tweaks, even though the majority of Coloradans still haven't received their first shot, let alone achieved maximum protection.

Click to see all the proposed dial changes; feedback is being accepted through this form until noon today, March 22. The final guidelines are expected to be available on March 23 and go into effect on March 24.

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