The number of new known cases of COVID-19 in Colorado has been on the rise since mid-June, hitting 324 Thursday, a new high since May 30.
The uptick comes after an overall declining number of new cases since late April, when the seven-day average of newly reported cases hit almost 600, nearly two times the low achieved in mid-June.
The rise isn’t concentrated in one part of the state — several counties have shown increases at the same time.
Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state health department’s chief epidemiologist, highlighted the increase during a Wednesday news conference.
“In the last week we did see an increase, compared to where we have been,” Dr. Herlihy said, warning that the spread of the virus could increase even more soon. “We’re really at a place that is a bit tenuous for us.”
Hospitalizations in Colorado have continued to decline, and outcomes for COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization have improved. Mortality rates have come down, which local hospital chiefs attribute to improved therapeutic care and better case management for COVID-19 patients, as the medical community learns how to handle the effects of the new virus.
But trends in hospitalizations lag behind trends in new cases being discovered.
In some neighboring states, coronavirus cases are surging, resembling the fast spread of the virus during March in states hit earlier by the virus, such as New York, New Jersey, Washington, Louisiana and Colorado.
Arizona, Utah and Texas have all seen fast-increasing new daily cases. In Arizona, the rise in transmissions has prompted hospitals to activate “surge plans,” as hospitalization needs are near capacity. In Texas, restrictions on bars and restaurants were put back in place.
The most recent modeling done by the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group, made up of researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health, the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, predicted in late May that cases could begin to rise again, starting near the end of June.
They urged Coloradans to maintain a 55% to 65% reduction in social interactions, in order to keep the spread of the virus slow enough to prevent unmanageable hospital needs.
But Coloradans have been increasingly moving around the state, cellphone data has shown. In mid-April, the portion of Coloradans who spent their time entirely at home peaked at around 50%. Since then, people have been staying at home less. And restrictions on businesses have been relaxed, with bars and restaurants open with tightened capacity restrictions, but large gatherings like concerts and sporting events still restricted.
Even though the state has counted about 32,000 cases in Colorado, the total number of cases is estimated to be about 10 times that. About 6% of the state’s population have contracted the virus, according to the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group’s research.
At the same Wednesday news conference where Dr. Herlihy discussed the recent rise in new cases, Gov. Jared Polis highlighted the larger spikes in new cases in nearby states to stress again to Coloradans to continue to socially distance.
Polis said Memorial Day weekend celebrations are suspected to be the culprit behind some of the surge in those areas, and said Coloradans need to remain vigilant about wearing masks and not congregating in large groups as another holiday weekend approaches.
"We don't want the Fourth of July holiday to be what Memorial Day weekend was in Arizona or Florida," he said.