While case and hospitalization numbers continue to rise, Jefferson County's top public health official says there is some good news when it comes to the county's recent efforts to manage its recent …
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While case and hospitalization numbers continue to rise, Jefferson County's top public health official says there is some good news when it comes to the county's recent efforts to manage its recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.
“Fortunately, our positivity rate is staying below 5%,” said Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director Mark B. Johnson. “That is sort of the goal that has been set and if we can keep that rate below 5% that essentially means that while we do see cases rising, we will see them fall again.”
Johnson said the county's optimism is buoyed by recent increases in the number of COVID-19 tests being conducted in Jeffco. The county now regularly reaching its goal of conducting at least 880 tests a day. That is a major change from July, when the county had only reached 880 tests a day a handful of times since the start of the pandemic—and none since late April.
But while the future outlook may be starting to improve, JCPH is also dealing with the immediate issue of the county's two-week COVID-19 case average being higher than the 580-case level set by the state public health board to keep the county's health order variances (granted in June) in place.
“For the next two weeks we will be doing all we can with mitigation efforts to bring that number below 580 so that we do not lose our variance,” Johnson told the Jeffco commissioners on Tuesday.
Johnson said the current state order already allows some of the things granted in the June variance. However, he warned that the loss of the variance would mean some changes, specifically a reduction in the number of people who can be inside various businesses at any one time, including gyms. Businesses not identified as "non-essential retail" also could be told to go from a 50% occupancy limit to a 10-person one.
Some of those businesses could be hit hard, Jefferson County attorney Kym Sorrells said, including smaller gyms such as local Pure Barre locations which would see their capacity limit reduced from 50% to 25%.
“I know in the process of seeking our variance some of the small business owners that I spoke with said if they have to operate with 25% capacity they will go out of business,” she said. “So for some businesses this could be a game changer and impact their ability to operate.”
In addition to implementing a new public health order requiring that masks be worn both indoors and outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained, Johnson said JCPH will be implanting “a major public relations campaign to notify our residents about what will happen if we do lose that variance and what we can do to help.” However, Johnson also warned that JCPH has largely exhausted the tools it has available to stop the spread of the disease, without resorting to measures like imposing further restrictions on businesses.
Johnson also said that as the county reviews why cases have been rising, there are two behaviors that seem to be contributing the most to transmission. The first is travel to other states, particularly hard-hit areas like Florida and California, and an increasing willingness of people to take part in small gatherings.
“It's not so much large gatherings as a large number of small gatherings,” said Johnson. “Parties and wedding showers and outdoor barbecues and that kind of thing where neighbors are getting together in groups that should be separated. Because of the quarantine fatigue and the beautiful weather, people are just getting together now and that's where we are getting most of our cases.”
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