El Paso County calls for “changes in our behavior” after increase in COVID-19 cases

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Springs Hospitals have told El Paso County Public health that, at the area’s current trajectory, they could run out of available ICU beds in two weeks, according to deputy medical director, Dr. Leon Kelly.

Presenting a comprehensive update on the coronavirus’ spread in the Pikes Peak region, Kelly said there need to be “changes in our behavior,” citing an increase in cases over the past several weeks, which he said are beginning to lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths, as well.

Dr. Kelly also spoke to spikes in neighboring states.

As far as positive test rates go, Dr. Kelly said the “global ideal” is 5 percent. El Paso County, however, is seeing a positive rate above 7 percent.

“We clearly do not want to wait until hospitals are at capacity to decide collectively as a community we’re going to do something about it,” Kelly said. “We just can’t do that so, now is our opportunity to alter our trajectory so we don’t get to that point.”

The county must now closely follow a mitigation process or risk losing its state approved variances, which allow for indoor dining at a limited capacity, use of playgrounds, and more.

The mitigation plan starts with communication to the community to rehash the importance of limiting social circles to a small and consistent group of no more than ten, keep six feet or more of distance between yourself and others, isolating when sick, washing hands and wearing masks and face coverings.

Dr. Kelly also addressed the issue of a possible mask mandate, which city council members heard comments on during a work session on Monday.

“To wear a mask is to do the single most important thing beyond spending your money to keep that business open, to keep the people that work at that business at work so they can earn a paycheck to support their family,” Kelly explained. “If you refuse to the most simple thing imaginable to help the people at that business and the business owners themselves, I don’t know what that says about the kind of person you are.”

In the early days of the coronavirus, he said, there was no mask recommendation because of a PPE shortage and less available information on how presymptomatic and asymptomatic people could spread the virus.

With the accumulation of more data, Dr. Kelly said it appears mask mandates increase usage by 25 percent, dropping infection rates by 25 percent.

El Paso County commissioners were not convinced by that data and also say enforcing a mandate is “impossible.”

“It’s just not something that we’ve understood or known to be effective for where we are as a county,” said Commission Board Chair Mark Waller.

City council members have added an ordinance that would require masks in public places to their July 27 work session and July 28 regular meeting.

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