New cases of COVID-19 among University of Colorado Boulder students are trending downward following a surge that led county health officials to take drastic measures last week to curtail the virus’ spread.
Yet amidst that good news, Boulder County Public Health warned Tuesday that coronavirus infections now are increasing across all other age groups in the county — something already being seen statewide.
“This downward trend in the 18-22-year-old age group is a good indication that the strategies we’ve implemented are starting to work,” said Jeff Zayach, the health agency’s executive director.
The rapid increase in novel coronavirus infections tied to the CU Boulder campus has helped fuel a rise in Colorado’s statewide numbers, and last week led university leaders to move classes online for at least two weeks and public health officials to enact strict measures including barring young people from gathering in groups.
CU officials, though, credit an earlier intervention — the recommended self-quarantine of all students living in Boulder announced Sept. 15 — with fueling the current downward trend, said Matt McQueen, a professor and epidemiologist who’s been part of the university’s COVID-19 response.
“The adherence among students to public health guidelines combined with the additional measures announced last week should continue to make an impact on the recent decrease in cases,” McQueen said. “The progress is encouraging, but we need this trend to continue. We will need to have everyone strengthen their commitment to slowing down the spread of COVID-19. We are expanding our capacity for our testing program and will continue our strong focus on contact tracing, education and enforcement.”
CU’s on-campus testing reported a peak in positive cases with near or above 100 a day between Sept. 16 and 21, but those numbers dropped through the rest of last week, with as few as 21 or 22 people testing positive on some days. Thirty-two people tested positive Monday.
The campus’s testing sites have confirmed a total of 1,051 cases since classes began in August.
Chana Goussetis, Boulder County Public Health spokeswoman, said the agency is “delighted to see the reduction in new cases in the past few days,” but, unlike CU, did not suggest what might be behind the decrease.
“We don’t have any information that would tell us definitively why there has been this reduction,” she said. “We will need to wait to see if the trend continues, if it is an anomaly, or if it is a reflection of fewer people deciding to get tested. We ended the day yesterday with 49 new cases (countywide) so we are still a long way from where we need to be.”
As of Monday, 4,440 Boulder County residents have tested positive or were considered probable for COVID-19. Health officials previously have noted that nearly 80% of COVID-19 in Boulder County are tied to CU.
Boulder County has been in the red zone on the state’s new COVID-19 dial for the last two weeks, with more than 350 cases per 100,000 residents. The county’s positivity rate is in the yellow zone, between 5% and 10%.
Boulder County Public Health is expected to submit a plan to deal with these increases to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Wednesday. The two agencies then will meet Thursday to determine whether additional measures need to be taken to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“The increase in new cases across all age groups, in addition to the outbreak among residents aged 18-22 years, can affect the extent to which businesses in the county can be open,” Boulder County Public Health officials said in a news release. “Occupancy limits for businesses within Boulder County, including whether certain businesses may remain open, are based on the number of new cases, the positivity percentage, and hospitalization rates.”
More than a week ago, two-thirds of the Boulder campus’s on-campus isolation space was in use. The university created more isolation space — partly by forcing nearly 200 students to move to different dorms — and as of Monday, 27% of the campus’s enlarged pool of isolation space was in use.
Last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment declared the Boulder campus the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the state.
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