COVID-19 cases are on a downward trend in Colorado, but the behavior of Coloradans over the next few months will determine if this continues, Gov. Jared Polis said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Polis and state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy emphasized that continuing to social distance and wear masks — in addition to distributing vaccines — will be key to preventing more COVID-19 deaths.
Colorado is on track to vaccinate 70% of residents 70 and older before the end of February, and Polis is hopeful the vaccine will be widely available in the summer.
Still, Herlihy cautioned the full benefit of the vaccine won’t be seen “for many months to come,” which is why continuing strategies like mask-wearing and distancing remain important.
“These same measures that have got Colorado through this are really the most effective way we have to get through the next few weeks and months as the vaccination rapidly kicks in to save lives and end the pandemic,” Polis said.
Colorado’s current level of transmission control is at 78%, Herlihy said, and maintaining that level throughout vaccine distribution “is our best chance at minimizing deaths over time.” If people revert back to not distancing or mask wearing, case numbers could spike again and decrease transmission control.
A 78% transmission control rate means behaviors such as mask wearing and social distancing have reduced the chances of being in contact with an infected person by 78%.
Herlihy also discussed the role of variants of COVID-19, noting that the most common variant — B.1.1.7, which originated in the UK and has been diagnosed nine times in Colorado, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — did not have an impact on the efficacy of the vaccine in the state’s model.
The CDC has said the B.1.1.7 variant, which is believed to be more contagious, underscores the need for social distancing and mask wearing.
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The state recorded 1,158 new cases and 674 hospitalizations on Tuesday, Polis said, and the current positivity rate is 7.46%. He estimated one in every 115 people in Colorado is contagious with COVID-19.
Colorado is currently receiving around 70,000 to 80,000 vaccines a week from the federal government, Polis said, noting that number may increase as the Biden administration has talked about distributing 100 million vaccines in its first 100 days.
“We’re confident vaccines aren’t going to get worse,” Polis said. “We just don’t know how much better it will get. … At least the current level of supply will be maintained, and of course we hope for additional doses.”
As of Monday, Colorado had administered 458,000 first doses and 82,659 second doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Polis said, noting the state has the capability to administer up to five times the amount of vaccines it is currently receiving from the federal government.
Polis expected to have information on when vaccinations will begin for those 65 and older later this week. It’s likely that teachers and essential workers will receive their vaccines earlier than March 1, he said.
Colorado currently has the 11th lowest seven-day rate of infection in the country, and its daily COVID-19 hospitalization rate is “much lower than the U.S. rates overall,” Herlihy said.
“We may be in the home stretch but there’s still a lot of loss ahead,” Polis said. “If we’re not careful, there could even be more loss ahead of us than behind us.”
Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at email@example.com. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.