Pandemic risk not over, Tri-County health chief says

Delta variant is ‘quite scary,’ says agency head Douglas

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Several Denver metro counties are now operating in what they call “level clear” in local dial policies, generally with no local coronavirus restrictions — and that’s likely to continue unless things take a turn for the worse, officials say.

Colorado’s color-coded COVID-19 dial was the set of restrictions counties had to follow based on the local spread of the virus. The system affected capacity at businesses, events and other settings. Colorado originally implemented the dial last Sept. 15.

This spring, when state officials stepped back and let local health agencies take the wheel on most coronavirus restrictions, health agencies in the Denver metro area extended the “dial” system locally as a rise in virus cases and the continued spread of COVID-19 variants kept health officials worried. 

In Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, for example, level clear will continue unless hospitalizations rise high enough to trigger a “snapback provision,” where restrictions would return.

John Douglas, head of Tri-County Health Department, said the coronavirus Delta variant has “come out of nowhere, and it’s quite scary,” and that Tri-County Health officials will be discussing what happens to the Adams and Arapahoe local-dial public health order after Aug. 15.

“I think if (trends are) similar to now, we would probably not continue the public health order. We won’t want to use that kind of procedure unless there’s a current risk or a likely imminent risk,” Douglas said in an interview.

Tri-County Health’s order runs through Aug. 16, and the agency was not considering a cancellation as of July 16, said Tri-County official Mellissa Sager.

Douglas thinks it’s not likely, but not impossible, that Tri-County’s area could see hospitalizations increase in coming months. Public health officials aren’t sure how long immunity from vaccination lasts and whether the public needs booster shots, Douglas added.

“Cooler fall weather, interacting more indoors … many people are concerned about a fall-winter wave of infection,” Douglas said.

Douglas noted that a pandemic, “just to be strictly definitional, is a global epidemic, and so we still have a global epidemic,” while trends have improved in the U.S. and Colorado specifically.

Colorado still has a “risk of cases, hospitalizations and deaths bouncing back potentially quickly in this state,” Douglas said.

Douglas added: “If you have been thinking about getting the vaccine yourself or thinking about someone in your family or friendship group getting it, now is the perfect time to do it, as Delta is making unvaccinated people sick across the country. Let tomorrow be the first day of your vaccinated life, as I think that does remain our main strategy.”

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