After weeks of decreases, an increase in the rates of both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Jefferson County is creating new a concern for Jefferson County's top public health official, who is …
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Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director Mark B. Johnson said he is “working very closely” with Jefferson County Public Schools and is in contact with the district’s health supervisor once or twice a week.
Those efforts have included working to hire a new epidemiologist that will be part of the JCPH staff but work full-time in the schools “to monitor what is going on and offer advice as things forward.”
Under the district’s restart plan released July 8, all students and staff members will be required to wear a face covering when it is not possible to stay maintain six feet of physical distancing.
JCPH has also consulted on decisions to limit the number of students that can be in a room and on a bus at any one time.
“Having said all that we are working with a brand new situation and with a brand new virus and we are basing a number of our plans and decisions and thoughts on the information we have now and trying to put together the best plans we possibly can and yet we are not absolutely sure what is going to happen. We’ll be monitoring what is going along and trying to make sure we are responding to anything that may change but we will basically have to see what happens.”
All Denver metro region superintendents and public health directors are also working together as a group on how to protect students and school staff.
After weeks of decreases, an increase in the rates of both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Jefferson County is creating new a concern for Jefferson County's top public health official, who is again pleading with the public to adhere to health recommendations.
“At this time, we are nowhere near overwhelming the health care system with COVID-19 cases or overwhelming the ventilators,” said JCPH Executive Director Mark B. Johnson. “But we are beginning to see an uptick in hospitalizations, which is something we need to watch very closely.”
Johnson told the Jeffco commissioners during a meeting on July 14 that there had been 384 new cases of COVID-19 in Jeffco over the past two weeks. That number is more than twice the 145 or fewer cases in a two-week period the county would need to show to advance to the next stage of Colorado's reopening plan based on Jeffco's population and rules established by the state.
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That's left JCPH looking again at what it can do to continue to decrease the number of cases. Johnson, however, acknowledged that when it comes to doing so, “we really don't have a whole lot of tools in our tool chest.”
Based on the how the virus spreads between people, Johnson said there are two tools the county does seem to have available to get a better handle on the situation.
One would be to back away from reopening and begin closing down businesses again in hopes the county again sees decreases like it did during the initial shutdown of non-essential businesses. The second possible method is to increase “the use of something that stops the transmission of virus droplets between people.”
It was with that second choice in mind that Johnson said he chose to issue a new order on July 14 that face masks be worn in public situations where social distancing cannot be maintained.
Gov. Jared Polis made a similar mask order, effective statewide, on July 16. To avoid redundancy and confusion, JCPH rescinded the county order the next day so county residents could just follow the state order.
“None of us want to go back as far as the reopening of the economy,” said Johnson. “We think that would be devastating and know that it already has been. Many of our businesses are saying if we move back in that direction then they will not be able to survive.”
However, Johnson also said that any single step, including a mask requirement, would be unlikely to change the county's COVID-19 trajectory by itself.
“It's not just social distancing or mask wearing or any one thing, it's everything together,” said Johnson. “I think what we are seeing is even if you have a mandatory mask order in place, if you have a big July 4 gathering where people are getting together and quite often in neighbor's homes and not wearing masks you can overwhelm whatever public health order you have in place.”
Johnson said he thinks gatherings that took place over the Memorial Day and July 4 holidays occurred after people took the continued reopening of the state and county as a sign they could go back to behaving normally. He added that every state, including Colorado, had reopened more quickly than experts recommended they should.
In order to move into the Protect Our Neighbors stage, Jeffco will need to meet seven other criteria in addition to seeing 145 or fewer cases in a two-week period. Johnson said the county is currently meeting five of those criteria but also falling short when it comes to see a “stable or decreasing rate of hospitalizations” and in conducting at least 380 tests a day.
However, that is more of an issue of Jeffco residents not seeking out tests at a high enough volume as the county has enough capacity to conduct that number of tests, he said.
Ultimately, Johnson said the county's ability to bring the virus under control will depend on how residents choose to behave.
“I think that we in Colorado and in Jeffco were able to see decreases previously because of civic responsibility and residents' willingness to really sacrifice,” he said. “I would just encourage all of our residents to continue to be as diligent as they can with wearing the face mask, with keeping that social distance and with staying away from gatherings as much as possible as those have really been the hotspots across the nation. Let's keep that social contract with your neighbors and friends to make sure we are really meeting the needs of stopping this spread.”
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