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COVID-19 cases leveling off in La Plata County

Colorado not experiencing post-holiday spike as some health officials feared

Having avoided a major spike in COVID-19 infections after the holidays, La Plata County’s case count appears to be leveling off, said San Juan Basin Public Health’s executive director.

After Halloween, which saw large numbers of people celebrating indoors, La Plata County’s case count saw a significant increase – from 425 cases Nov. 1 to more than 2,000 by mid-December.

To slow the virus’ spread, La Plata County moved into the more restrictive Level Red public health order Nov. 20, which prohibited restaurants from offering indoor dining, among other measures.

Health officials worried, however, that people would gather indoors in large groups for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which would likely result in another surge of COVID-19 cases.

Nearly a month later, positive cases are instead showing signs of leveling off, said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. In the past two weeks, for instance, La Plata County has recorded just 163 new positive cases.

“Colorado seems to have escaped what a lot of other states had trouble with over the holidays,” she said.

Created with Highcharts 8.2.2Cumulative presumptive positivecasesCOVID cases for Archuleta and La Plata countiesThe first case was reported March 23, 2020.Archuleta CountyLa Plata County23-Mar13-Aug3-Jan5-Apr18-Apr1-May14-May27-May9-Jun22-Jun5-Jul18-Jul31-Jul26-Aug8-Sep21-Sep4-Oct17-Oct30-Oct12-Nov25-Nov8-Dec21-Dec16-Jan0167334501668835100211691336150316701837200421712338250526722839San Juan Basin Public Health

But a few important factors should be considered when discussing the slowing of positive cases, Jollon said.

For one, fewer people are being tested. At the peak of surging cases this fall, the testing sites at the La Plata County Fairgrounds and Fort Lewis College were testing about 450 people a day.

Now, the sites are testing fewer than 300 people a day. Jollon said she believes that’s likely because fewer people are sick and require a test, though she said some people may be fatigued with the virus and choose to not get tested.

Also, the slowing of positive cases could be attributed to the fact the testing sites have been closed for several days over the past few weeks for holidays as well as because of inclement weather.

But still, there are encouraging signs. Gov. Jared Polis moved La Plata County into the less restrictive Level Orange on Jan. 4, even though the county’s metrics didn’t meet the criteria for that public health order.

Two days ago, however, La Plata County met the previous Level Orange criteria for the first time, which calls for fewer than 350 cases per 100,000 residents for a 14-day period, adjusted for population.

If La Plata County continues to meet that criteria for seven consecutive days, businesses that have received the 5-Star certification could operate under Level Yellow, meaning restaurants could offer indoor dining at 50% capacity.

But the encouraging trends are no reason to stop best practices aimed at the slowing the spread of COVID-19, Jollon said.

One in 115 people in Colorado are infected with the virus, which means there’s still the potential for rapid spread. And, the more contagious variants being discovered could hit the community hard.

“Because numbers were so high this fall, even with decline, the prevalence of disease is really high,” Jollon said. “So even though we’re experiencing a decline and the numbers look good, there’s still a good chance of catching it.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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