Professors say to stay alert even though Colorado COVID-19 case fatality rates continue to fall

Coronavirus

A rendering of coronavirus via the CDC.

DENVER (KDVR) — Level Red restrictions aside, there is good news about Colorado’s surging caseload. Statewide fatality rates are beneath the U.S. total and Colorado’s rural fatality rates are even lower.

Still, healthcare researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine warn bad news if certain counties fail to keep practicing COVID-19 protocols.

The picture is ugly from most angles.

Death and case rates per 100,000 people are worse in Colorado than in the nation at large. We ranked 13th highest in the nation for cases per 100,000. Twenty counties are now under Level Red modified stay-at-home orders

Survivability, however, looks better here than in the nation at large, and better still in Colorado’s rural areas. Colorado’s case fatality rate – that is, how many confirmed COVID-19 patients die – is lower than the U.S. average.

Better still are Colorado’s non-metro counties.

Even at its highest, the case fatality rate of non-metro counties was two percentage points lower than the city counties. Both reached their height in May and have since plummeted to 1.67% for metro counties and 1.19% for non-metro counties.

“In cities, it spreads much more rapidly,” Dr. Glen Mays, chair of the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy at the Colorado School of Public Health said. “It more quickly gets into higher risk populations. There’s natural social distancing in these rural areas.”

Nationwide, researchers recently saw a flip in case fatality rates. In certain Midwest areas, rural counties have worse rates than urban ones for the first time.

Colorado’s rural counties have not risen, but they are narrowing in comparison to urban death rates.

At the pandemic’s May height, the urban Colorado case fatality rate was 2% higher than the rural one. As of Nov. 14, the urban case fatality rate was only a fraction of a percent higher.

Mays said this points to Colorado entering the same phase as the Midwest in terms of rural fatalities.

“I think it’s a pretty clear signal we’re starting to see community spread in rural areas,” he said. “Those natural defense mechanisms are starting to weaken. It is an early warning signal.”

There are feedback loops at work in COVID-19 transmission, Mays said. Uninfected populations hear news about their relative safety and disregard safety measures, which in turn leads to more and more transmissions.

To stop the rural fatality flip, he has simple advice.

“It fundamentally comes down to the level of vigilance in adopting the strategies we know are working,” Mays said. “Wearing a mask, washing your hands, staying away, limiting social engagements with members outside your household, limiting group sizes.”

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