COVID-19 vaccines are here, but masks, social distancing still needed for ‘several months’

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Health and safety measures like masks and social distancing will be needed for “several months” to keep hospitalizations down even as COVID-19 vaccines are distributed across Colorado, state health officials said Friday.

About 2% of Coloradans have received the vaccine, Gov. Jared Polis said in a Friday news conference. As many areas of the state finish vaccinating those in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, health officials are shifting their focus to vaccinating Coloradans age 70 and older in the next phase, with a goal of vaccinating 70% of those 70 and older by the end of February.

The state receives vaccines from the federal government weekly, with about 70,000 expected each week depending on the supply chain, Polis said.

As vaccination rolls out over the next few months, state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said health officials project hospitalizations to go down. But continued public health strategies, like mask-wearing and social distancing, will have a greater continued impact on decreasing hospitalizations. 

Tracking COVID:Larimer County and Colorado case, vaccine and hospital data

“Social distancing and mask wearing really continue to be more important and have greater impact on individual hospitalizations than the vaccine does,” Herlihy said. “It’s really going to be several months before we see a clear impact of the vaccine … on the number of hospitalizations in the state.”

Herlihy said masks and social distancing measures will likely be needed through at least late summer and early fall. 

About 1 in 105 Coloradans are currently contagious with COVID-19, Herlihy said Friday.

New coronavirus cases have been declining over the last few weeks, but numbers of tests per day have also been lower over the same time period, Herlihy said. Officials have not seen an increase in cases from the holiday season, but it is still too early to see impacts from any New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Vaccines:Next in line for the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado? Here’s when you might get your first dose.

Sady Swanson covers public safety, K-12 education and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at sswanson@coloradoan.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.