As Coronavirus Cases Rose In Colorado, Outbreaks Did Too. But There Are Small Signs of Hope In The Latest Numbers

October 21, 2020
A sign in Denver encourages face masks.A sign in Denver encourages face masks.David Zalubowski/AP
A sign encouraging the use of face coverings stands outside the History Colorado Center as traffic passes southbound on Broadway Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Denver.

Along with rising positive tests and hospitalizations, new COVID-19 outbreaks have now reached their highest single-week total in Colorado since the start of the pandemic.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment reported 86 new COVID-19 outbreaks this week, which is defined as two or more cases in one facility within a two-week period. The previous highest total was the week of Sept. 27, which saw 60 new outbreaks.

Education facilities — including colleges, child care centers and schools — had the most outbreaks this week with 17. Education has consistently represented the highest portion of outbreaks since the beginning of September when many schools started.

While outbreaks at colleges and universities have involved hundreds of students, outbreaks at K-12 schools and childcare centers have generally only included several people per outbreak. Restaurants, offices and elder facilities also represented a large portion of the outbreaks this week with 13, 12 and 11 respectively.

The rising number of outbreaks comes at an important moment for the state in the fight against the coronavirus. In data reported Wednesday, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that were positive, averaged over three days, reached 6.05 percent, the highest since July 17.

The number of people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 also grew again in Wednesday’s report, to 532 from 516 the day before. However, that is the smallest daily increase this week.

Gov. Jared Polis and public health officials at the state and local levels have been appearing regularly for a week now to encourage Coloradans to reduce their number of contacts outside their households and to regularly wear masks and wash their hands to try and arrest the spread.

“We have a short window of time to get the deadly virus under more control before the holiday season and protect our families, ourselves, and to avoid economic setbacks,” Polis said during one of those appearances Tuesday. “These cases aren’t going to change magically on their own. Every Coloradan has made sacrifices during this pandemic and that should strengthen our resolve to do everything we can now, during the most challenging period of the pandemic.”

The daily percentage of positive tests on Tuesday fell by more than a half-point from the day before, to back below 6 percent. Should that pattern continue, the 3-day and 7-day positivity rates will follow suit, indicating that the public information campaign is working. 

And while the growth in hospitalizations is of concern to public health officials, COVID-19 patients still make up just 6 percent of the state’s hospital patients.

Though at Tuesday's event, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said they were closely watching the availability of intensive care beds.

“At this point, our hospital admission rate is the same as it was in May and is steadily increasing,” Herlihy said.

The 7-day average of ICU beds in use is 77 percent. It was less than 70 percent mid-summer.

A total of 66 people were discharged from Colorado hospitals in the 24 hours ending Wednesday after recovering from COVID-19. That ties Oct. 15 for the largest number of people to be discharged in a day since early May.

CPR News reporter John Daley contributed to this report.