Pueblo Health Director Blames Small Gatherings — Not Superspreader Events — For Recent COVID-19 Spike

November 6, 2020
Jennifer Castellon manages a coronavirus testing site at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo. She said she's seen a recent spike in people getting testing for COVID-19 amid growing coronavirus numbers in the city.Jennifer Castellon manages a coronavirus testing site at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo. She said she's seen a recent spike in people getting testing for COVID-19 amid growing coronavirus numbers in the city.Dan Boyce/CPR News
Jennifer Castellon manages a coronavirus testing site at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo. She said she's seen a recent spike in people getting testing for COVID-19 amid growing coronavirus numbers in the city.

Jennifer Castellon manages a coronavirus testing site at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo. She said the site had been seeing low traffic since opening in August. That’s all changed in the last week or so.  

“Now, our numbers have escalated, on Monday we did 862 [tests],” Castellon said.

According to Pueblo County Health Director Randy Evetts, those tests combined with another 668 on Tuesday, were more than the county did in the entire month of April. Wednesday, the site did another 756 tests.

The new high testing rate follows a rapid spike in coronavirus infections, which led Mayor Nick Gradisar to impose a 14-day overnight curfew in the city starting on October 30th.

Evetts said the county is tracking about 30 active outbreaks. He said their contact tracing efforts are being overwhelmed — something he said many other parts of the state are already dealing with. Evetts said testing efforts right now are returning an 8 percent positivity rate. The World Health Organization has advised governments to consider greater restrictions when they reach positivity rates above 5 percent. 

Evetts said the contact tracing and case investigation that is working is finding that many cases at this stage of the virus are coming not from so-called “superspreader” events — those that attract a large number of people — but from small gatherings in homes where social distancing and mask wearing is lax or nonexistent.

“[It’s] weekend events with family, those kinds of things, where we tend to let our guard down a little bit,” he said. “That continues to be a leading cause of those hospitalizations.” 

Currently, county hospitals are treating about 55 COVID patients, Evetts said.

Gov. Jared Polis said Thursday that statewide hospitalizations are currently at an all-time high, straining Colorado’s capacity to effectively treat severe cases.

Gradisar said this week that it is too early to tell if the 10 p.m. -5 a.m. curfew he put in place last week is helping slow new infections, though he said residents do seem to largely be honoring it. He described police as being sensitive in their enforcement of the curfew. 

“People going back and forth to the drug store or the grocery store, or going back and forth to work,they're not going to be pulled over for a curfew violation, but carloads of young people riding around willy nilly, they possibly could be,” Gradisar said. So far only one citation has been issued involving the curfew, he said.

Gradisar said he hopes residents will reconsider whether or not to hold their traditional holiday gatherings over the next two months.

“If we have those extended gatherings at Thanksgiving, probably some of the people won't be around to celebrate Christmas because they’ll be infected,” Gradisar said. “For a small percentage of those people, those infections will be catastrophic.”