Coronavirus infections have increased among younger Coloradans in recent weeks, a trend that mirrors what is happening in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas where COVID-19 cases are surging.
Overall, the number of novel coronavirus cases in Colorado has increased slightly in recent weeks, but the state has not yet seen the same level of spikes in cases as some other states. As a result, public health officials are urging residents to forgo large gatherings to prevent Colorado from following in those states’ footsteps.
“We’re certainly at a critical point right now,” said Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, adding, “If we need to take action to potentially decrease transmission we’ll look into what those strategies need to be for Colorado.”
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Colorado rose last week for the first time since late April, and appear to be continuing that upward trend this week.
In the past four weeks, total COVID-19 infections statewide have increased by about 25%. But among children, teens and young adults that rate is even higher.
The rate of infection among those between the ages 10 and 19jumped 53.5% over the same period, according to a Denver Post analysis of data from the state health department.
The infection rate among those under 10 years old also increased by 47.5%. And for those in their 20s and 30s, the infection rate grew by 40.3% and 26%, respectively.
It’s unclear exactly why there has been an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, but local public health officials have reported clusters of cases among teens and young adults in various counties.
Young adults and teens also are more likely to be mobile and interact with each other, which increases their risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus, according to public health experts.
So far, there are no indications that the racial justice protests that have taken place over the past month have led to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
In fact, one study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that during the demonstrations more people stayed home. So while the disease may have been transmitted during the protests, there was overall an increase in social distancing in the cities with civil unrest.
“That could change,” said Glen Mays, a professor of health policy at the Colorado School of Public Health. “But at this stage, I don’t think we have any strong evidence that protesters themselves encountered any heightened risk.”
The concern over social gatherings is such that Gov. Jared Polis earlier this week repeatedly discouraged Coloradans from coming together in large groups, including for July 4 celebrations. However, he made no move to the reverse the state’s reopening process, which could soon allow for bigger events.
“We’re not saying that individuals shouldn’t be out enjoying Colorado this summer,” Herlihy said. “But they should be doing it in a safe way.”
Rising cases among teens and young adults
Other states also have reported jumps in infections among younger people. In Arizona, almost half of the state’s cases are made up of people 20 to 44years old, according to the state’s health department.
Young adults and teenagers are at a lower risk of complications from COVID-19, but they can still face difficulties and hospitalizations from the disease. They can also be asymptomatic carriers, meaning they can transmit the virus to those who are more at risk of complications without experiencing severe symptoms themselves.
Herlihy has estimated that the asymptomatic rate among young people is about 50%.
So far, the outbreak in Colorado has affected older individuals at a higher rate than their younger peers. For example, individuals 80 and older make up just more than 3% of the state’s population, but account for 7.15% of cases and 53.5% of deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
A concern about these clusters of cases is that they indicate continued community transmission of the disease, said Eagle County spokeswoman Kris Widlak.
“What we’re trying to do is slow the spread,” Widlak said. “So if any group is spreading it more quickly, we have concern.”
Herlihy estimated that Colorado’s “R-naught” value, which reflects the average number of people infected by one person, likely surpassed 1 in mid-June. This means each person with the virus is potentially transmitting the disease to more people.
“Now is not the time to feel like the battle is won and that we can relax things,” Mays said. “We’re still at a very tenuous time.”
On Friday, the state reported 317 new cases of the novel coronavirus. Of those, 313 were for people who tested positive in recent days, while the rest were older cases. Overall, more than 31,790 people have tested positive for the respiratory disease COVID-19 since March, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.
Positivity rates have increased slightly, although hospitalizations for COIVD-19 have plateaued. On Friday, there were 129 people in the hospital with the disease across the state.
The health department also confirmed another seven people have died, bringing the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 to 1,482.
Counties report spikes in cases
The new cases among young Coloradans comes as local public health officials reported spikes in cases.
In Boulder County, more than 100 people tested positive for the disease following a mixture of college parties, protests and travel. In Eagle County, public officials also confirmed cases among teenagers and young adults following social gatherings.
San Miguel County officials reported a rise in cases in recent weeks, with 11 active cases as of Friday. While not all of the cases are related, teenagers are among some of those to test positive for COVID-19.
After one 17-year-old from Telluride tested positive, public health officials released a letter to parents asking families to take precautions — such as curbing their contact with others — if their child also had been at a social gathering the teen previously attended.
“We realize that teenagers are social beings and this pandemic is cramping their style,” the public health department wrote. “But we know we must collectively change our behaviors, to change the trajectory of this pandemic.”
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