La Plata County’s COVID-19 case rate is declining, which could result in less strict regulations that would allow restaurants to reopen, but health officials warn of a potential spike should best practices not be followed over the holidays.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health. “But if we get another big outbreak, the clock could reset.”
La Plata County moved into the Level Red public health order Nov. 20 after a drastic surge in COVID-19 cases. From March to Oct. 31, there were just 427 confirmed positive cases.
As of Friday, a total of 2,043 positive cases had been reported.
But the more restrictive measures within Level Red seem to be working, Jollon said, as evidenced by the declining case count.
For a community to enter Level Red, there has to be more than 350 positive cases per 100,000 residents for a 14-day time period, adjusted for population.
At the height of La Plata County’s surge in cases, the community was reporting about 1,100 positive cases per 100,000 residents in a 14-day time period, adjusted for population.
But now, SJBPH is reporting that number at 750 positive cases per 100,000 residents in a 14-day time period, adjusted for population, and it continues to decline.
Jollon said if residents were to continue to follow best practices aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, La Plata County could move into the less restrictive Level Orange public health order within the next few weeks.
Most notably, Level Orange would allow restaurants to reopen to indoor dining. Under Level Red, restaurants are limited to offering takeout and delivery, as well as outdoor dining.
But one potentially major obstacle stands in the way between La Plata County and Level Orange: the upcoming holidays.
Since the pandemic started in March, after many major holidays – the Fourth of July, Labor Day weekend, Halloween – there’s been a significant increase in the spread of COVID-19, Jollon said.
But as cases were surging in November, and with Thanksgiving approaching, health officials ramped up messaging to follow best health practices and enacted Level Red to avoid mass spread of the virus.
“Thanksgiving was the holiday we were most worried about because we’d seen spikes with every other holiday,” Jollon said.
People did travel and mix with other households during Thanksgiving, but not on the scale health officials feared. As a result, a large surge of new cases was avoided, Jollon said.
Now the concern is that with cases leveling off, people may let their guard down and gather indoors for Christmas and New Year’s, thereby setting off another spike of COVID-19 cases.
“We are doing really well. We’ve dropped our numbers and come down from our peak,” Jollon said. “We just have to keep it up for one more set of holidays.”
La Plata County’s test positivity rate is already within Level Orange parameters, and continues to decline. Hospitalizations are considered to meet the “stable” criteria, SJBPH said.
If La Plata County meets the criteria for Level Orange, the state of Colorado would automatically enact those restrictions.