Douglas County outlines new ways to fight virus

The plan comes after a recent surge in cases


Douglas County has submitted a plan outlining new ways to curb the COVID-19 virus after the state's public-health department informed them they were in danger of losing their exemptions -- known as "variances" -- from certain rules restricting activity in the county due to a recent surge in cases.

Douglas County's variances allow for large gatherings and the operation of libraries, movie theaters, concert halls, restaurants, gyms, churches and Park Meadows mall.

In a letter to Douglas County, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment requested that the county either submit a mitigation plan for containing the surge or no longer use any of their variances.

“We are seeing an uptick in cases in Colorado in general and (Douglas County) in particular,” according to the letter.

In the mitigation plan, submitted July 21, the county asks for clarification from CDPHE about their “change in direction,” in relation to variance approvals, according to a copy of the plan. The county also said they have not surpassed certain agreed-upon levels of infection.

CDPHE sent these letters to all counties with approved variances that had a two-week cumulative disease incidence rate greater than 50 people per 100,000, according to a CDPHE spokesperson.

“Douglas County had exceeded the incidence rate at the time we sent them a letter,” the spokesperson said.

The day they were notified by CDPHE, Douglas County's two-week incidence rate, which measures how many new cases were reported per 100,000 people, was 90.13. 

From July 10 until July 24, the county's incidence rate was 98.88 per 100,000 people. Over the same period, Arapahoe County had a 121.3 incidence rate and Adams County had a rate of 149.2.

July 24, Douglas County was reclassified from having a “high incidence rate” to a “moderately-high incidence rate,” according to CDPHE's site.

In the mitigation plan, Douglas County pointed to its hospitalization data and 14-day average positive testing percentage to demonstrate that community virus transmissions are low. The county also noted that CDPHE may be using an outdated population figure to calculate their incidence rate, which could be skewing the figure.

When asked about this point, a spokesperson for CDPHE did not immediately have an answer but said their staff is “actively looking into” it.

While hospitalizations remain low, Douglas County had its highest days yet of positive tests returned July 9 and July 15 with 43 new cases both days. The next highest day was April 30 with 34 new cases. However, testing data is often delayed, sometimes by up to 14 days.

It's important to look at all statistical indicators when considering where a community stands in the pandemic, said Callie Preheim, a population health epidemiologist with Tri-County. 

Steps to mitigate the surge

In an effort to tamp down the recent rise in cases, the county has outlined three new measures in their mitigation plan: an increase in testing capacity, improved contact tracing and continued public education and engagement.

According to the document, Tri-County Health Department has recommended that Douglas County have at least 515 tests taken every day. In order to meet this standard, the county is working with STRIDE Community Health Center. Pending a contract approval from the county commissioners, STRIDE will administer mobile testing for the county from Sept. 1 through Dec. 30.

There will also be three free drive-through testing events throughout the county in August: August 4 in Castle Rock; August 13 in Lone Tree; and August 25 in Parker.

In the plan, the county also emphasizes the contact tracing efforts provided by Tri-County. 

“TCHD is working on a major priority of deploying an expanded workforce for disease investigation and contact tracing,” according to the plan. “Anyone who has come in contact with an individual who has been tested positive will be screened for symptoms.” 

Tri-County is also hiring more than 400 people to work as contact tracers in their jurisdiction, according to the plan.

The contact tracing provided through Tri-County and testing through STRIDE will both be funded by the federal CARES Act, said a spokesperson with the county. Both are set to be approved during the July 28 county commissioners meeting.

In addition to supporting contact tracing and increased testing, the county plans to continue working on educating the public on healthy behaviors including “personal responsibility associated with mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing, getting tested, staying home and isolating when sick and cooperating with public health investigations,” according to the document.

The expected outcome listed from this measure is “personal responsibility and positive choices by our communities leading to a decrease in new cases.” 

Other efforts outlined in the document include collaboration with hospitals, supporting businesses that establish social distancing protocols, developing a county-wide website for COVID-19 information and creating multiple task forces to deal with issues like economic recovery and human needs.

Fourteen other counties, all with approved variances, also received the letter, according to a CDPHE spokesperson.

The county has until Aug. 3 to reverse the trend of increasing infections.

"We will re-evaluate your case count and percent testing positivity at that time and may modify or remove the county's variance depending on the outcome,” according to the CDPHE letter.


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