Colorado in COVID-19 plateau, but vaccines showing ‘clear benefit’ in recent weeks

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DENVER — Colorado health officials on Tuesday said the state has reached a plateau in COVID-19 cases, seeing benefits from the COVID-19 vaccine but not any recent downswings in data.

The key vaccine benefit, so far, has been in the decline in cases among the state’s 70-and-older population, a group that is now 77% vaccinated, according to data presented at a news conference Tuesday. Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, said the data shows a “clear benefit” from the vaccine, so far.

Dr. Jonathan Samet, the director of Colorado’s school of public health who leads the state’s data modeling efforts, said the state is at an infection rate of about 1 in 350, a stark improvement from a rate of 1 in 40 in December. While the case rates have come down from those mid-winter highs, the state has reached something of a plateau in recent weeks and the officials would like to see the infection rate drop to levels of 1 in 600 or 1 in 700.

Samet, Herlihy and Gov. Jared Polis all spoke at Tuesday’s COVID-19 update, encouraging Coloradans to continue wearing masks and staying socially distant, when possible.

Samet outlined the risks of letting up on social distancing — at 60% social distancing, compared to the current 70% trend, the curve of COVID-19 cases would go up again. Samet encouraged Coloradans to maintain the plateau of COVID-19 cases to give more time for vaccine distribution.

Officials on Tuesday also gave an update on the COVID-19 variants identified in Colorado. Colorado tests certain samples for different variants, such as the UK, South Africa, California and New York variants. Of the samples test, 8-10% weekly are the U.K. variant and 20-22% weekly are the California variant.

In total, Colorado has identified about 575 variant cases, including 11 of the South African variant and four of the New York variant.

Polis said it will be important for Coloradans to continue wearing masks for the next several months, as vaccine distribution is expanded to the general public, hopefully by mid-April.