DENVER (KDVR) — Whether it’s a post-Christmas upward blip or the beginning of a sustained climb, Colorado’s daily COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
The rise in cases coincides with both the discovery of an aggressive COVID-19 variant and Gov. Jared Polis loosening restrictions for Front Range counties. Officials say it is too early to determine yet if the case increase justifies public concern.
“It’s too soon to tell if it’s just a momentary increase or if it’s an indication of a more significant, sustained spike,” said Conor Cahill, Polis’ press secretary. “We need Coloradans to continue to follow public health protocols until vaccines are widely available. It’s more important than ever to wear a mask, practice physical distancing, and avoid large gatherings. Colorado hasn’t finished this marathon yet, and we want to ensure our hospitals are never overwhelmed.”
Other members of the Colorado healthcare community said they are aware of the trend and tracking it closely.
“It’s definitely something we’re keeping a close eye on,” said Dr. Glen Mays, chair of the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy at the Colorado School of Public Health.
Death rates, hospitalizations and daily hospital admissions, intensive care bed usage rates and most COVID numbers have been falling since their mid-November height. Most are matching the levels in each category Colorado saw in October, or in some cases, September.
Case rates, however, are canaries in the coalmine for the others, and they’re rising quickly.
Before Dec. 29, Colorado’s daily caseload had been in a free fall. On Nov. 21, the state had an average 5,200 cases per day.
There was a slight uptick following Thanksgiving, but numbers continued to crash. By Dec. 29, there were 3,600 fewer daily new cases than the height on Nov. 21.
Just before the new year, however, cases began rising again and have gone up an average 500 per day. The 7-day average for new COVID-19 cases went from 1,832 on Dec. 29 to 2,378 per day on Jan. 5, a 30% increase.
The United States as a whole is seeing the same trend.
The national 7-day average for new cases per 100,000 people has risen in similar proportion in the same timeline. The national 7-day average per 100,000 was 54 cases on Dec. 29, and has risen to 66 cases per day on Jan. 5 – a 22% increase.
Dr. Mays said climbing case numbers may be either a post-Christmas blip or a worrying trend coinciding with a new COVID variant and loosened restrictions. Time will tell.
“These data are not perfect,” he said. “In particular, data in holiday periods where there are delays in testing.”
There was a short-lived upward tick in cases following Thanksgiving that lasted seven days before dipping back downward. Dr. Mays chalked it up to a testing delay – cases that happened over the holiday weren’t counted until testing sites opened back up afterward. This spike could potentially be the same.
If this lasts, though, it means something different.
“The longer that uptick is sustained, it makes it much more likely we’re seeing actual transmission pattern,” said Dr. Mays. “If we’re seeing the same kind of pattern in hospitalizations… that gives more evidence of a trend.”