COLORADO SPRINGS — For the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and in the weeks after, public health experts and hospital leaders held their breath to see what people would do—and how those actions would appear in COVID-19 tests and hospital admissions.
Two weeks removed from the holiday in Colorado, the signs are encouraging as the state’s plateau of new cases has started to decrease in recent days.
While they wait a few more days to draw a direct conclusion, if the trend holds, they hope increased restrictions and people’s decreased gatherings have played a role to simmer the surge.
“If that continues to be our trend, that we continue to see this stabilization in counts or even a decrease in case counts, I think that’s the most likely scenario,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, a state epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
For much of Colorado’s Front Range communities, Level Red or “Severe Risk” restrictions went into affect one week before Thanksgiving, on November 20. In El Paso County, the restrictions came the Saturday following the holiday.
In the weeks leading up to level red, a number of highly-populated Front Range counties moved up the state’s COVID-19 dial, as well as implementing their own restrictions (with the exception of El Paso County). The plateau in case data at the state level began in the days following the Front Range’s move to level red.
“What we’ve seen is a sequence of policy changes,” said Dr. John M. Douglas Jr. “Honestly, they’ve been shotguns. They have lots of pellets. We can’t tell which pellet is making the most difference.”
Dr. Douglas Jr. is the executive director of the Tri-County Health Department, spanning Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties, and spoke during the Colorado Joint Information Center’s briefing Thursday.
Decreasing case counts occured around Thanksgiving, with a slight uptick, then another decrease this past weekend, according to state data.
For Dr. Eric France, the Chief Medical Officer for CDPHE, he’s happy that cases are starting to go down, though it’s a thin line between a continuing decrease and going back into a surge.
“If I count the days backwards in what may have helped with that downward trend, it might very well be that it was this “Red” intervention that really moved us away from just a simple plateau into an actual decrease,” Dr. France said. “These are assumptions though. We know that staying wearing a mask and social distancing has to be in play so that our transmission control numbers are high.”
As Hanukkah begins and more holidays are down the road, the advice from health experts is similar to that of what was preached before Thanksgiving—limit in person gatherings to one household, virtual celebrations with far away and at-risk family members, and wearing masks.
The difference is where the trends are and what decisions around December will mean as vaccines begin to roll out in the United States.
“This is something we should actually look at as good news, that we’ve plateaued, that we’re not rising,” said Dr. Robin Johnson, the medical director for El Paso County Public Health. “But again, there is that grain of salt—that we have to really stay the course.”