On Cusp of 4th Wave, Colorado Hands Off Pandemic Management to Local Governments

In their Wednesday media briefing on the state of the pandemic, officials with Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) prepared to hand the reins of pandemic management over to local authorities while serving up a mix of good and bad news.

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“We are seeing what appears to be the beginning of a 4th wave of COVID 19 in Colorado,” said CDPHE’s COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman. “We are seeing case rates go up. We reported more than 2,000 cases yesterday alone. Percent positivity is going up. Hospitalizations are also going up.”

But what’s also going up are vaccination rates. And that’s what officials are betting on when it comes to getting ahead of the spread of more contagious variants.

Brigadier General Scott Sherman of the Colorado National Guard and Director of the UCC Vaccine Joint Task Force pointed to new records set last week. “Thursday and Friday of last week; over 75 thousand doses administered in a day.” A big part of that has been the recent opening of six community vaccination sites.

What is apparently fueling the current rise in cases is spread among young adults, an age group that until recently had not been eligible for vaccination. “As we’ve worked hard to vaccinate the older Coloradans, people 50 and older, we know that as you age, you are more likely to be symptomatic with COVID,” said CDPHE Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric France. “And it may be that while COVID is spreading, this is a population that has high rates of asymptomatic spread and may be unaware they actually have it, which is all the more reason that those who do feel sick need to be tested because it allows us to identify the asymptomatic they were in contact with and ask them to quarantine.”

That’s especially critical now that state officials are handing over pandemic management to local governments, which – in many places – are loosening restrictions that have been in place. As of today, Denver and Boulder have gone to “Level Blue” restrictions, which allows restaurants and gyms can return to full capacity and bars to reopen.

Scott Bookman of the CDPHE says state officials considered a number of factors in the decision to hand the reins over the local governments: “At this point, we just really want to encourage all Coloradans, regardless of the dial or regardless of what restrictions might be in place: wear a mask, keep your distancing, stay home when you’re sick. We are so close to the end here, it is absolutely critical that we keep following this guidance until the end.”

As of now, all Coloradans 16 and older are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, and residents 18 and up can access the one from Moderna. Authorities this week paused use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to reports of blood clots in a small number of individuals who received the jab.

Information on where to get a vaccine or how to access free testing is online at covid19.colorado.gov.