Jefferson County sees need for more data as COVID-19 cases continue to increase

Restrictions likely to be increased soon if numbers remain at current levels


Jeffco officials asked for more specific data from Jeffco Public Health about where and among whom COVID-19 is spreading in Jeffco during a meeting held to discuss how the county should address a continuing rise in new cases that could lead the state to impose new restrictions on county businesses.

The meeting was held on Oct. 19 after the county was notified by the Colorado Department of Public Health that the county had been moved from Safer at Home Level 2 to Safer at Home Level 3 on the state COVID-19 status dial, which would further limit how gyms, restaurants and other businesses can operate.

However, JCPH Executive Director Jody Erwin said the move is considered “informal” for now and the county should have about four weeks to reduce its case numbers enough to move back into Level 3 or at least negotiate on whether all Level 3 restrictions will be put into effect in Jeffco. However, JCPH now does have the ability to “formally” move Jeffco into Level 3 and impose all accompanying restrictions if it determines Jeffco's case data warrants doing so, he noted.

“They are going to work with us and give us some flexibility and our hope is that as we get to the end of the four weeks as long as we are continuing to make progress they will continue to have some flexibility with us,” said Erwin.

Erwin said contact tracing data suggests the primary drivers of the increase in cases continue to be small gatherings of family and friends in backyards and other locations as well as household spread that occurs when someone becomes infected with COVID-19 in the community and then spreads it to those in their household.

County attorney Kym Sorrells said that if COVID-19 is mostly spreading in Jeffco at private gatherings and not at businesses like restaurants and gyms, then it is important that the county have that data in order to potentially make the case that those businesses should remain open even as case counts are rising.

“If they're not seeing spread in the gym or they're not seeing spread in the restaurants or retail stores then let's argue like hell to keep those things at the level they are,” said Sorrells. “Because if they're not causing the spread, why are we going to harm people further by shutting them down.”

Casey Tighe also expressed concerns about the need for better data.

“I know the data is hard to get because contact tracing is not easy,” said Tighe. “But we've got to try as much as we can to get data to drive our decisions.” `

Tighe said it is particularly important for the county to get data about how much of the increase in cases is being driven by Jeffco schools continuing to offer in-person learning and other activities like sports.

“I know, it's hard but I don't see how if the data is pointing toward the schools, why we wouldn't push them to move to remote learning vs. closing some of the businesses,” said Tighe.

MORE: Jeffco schools sees its worst one-week COVID-19 case count

Erwin said he agreed with the need for more data but said current state data suggests that schools are not a significant source of COVID-19 spread. However, Erwin said JCPH would move to require schools to take all learning online if data did suggest such a move was warranted.

Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper suggested the county should look to use more of the CARES Act funds it received from the Federal government to further increase its contact tracing capacity in hopes of getting data about where and how COVID is spreading in Jeffco.

“That data is so relevant as we are talking with our community and building those communication strategies to really pinpoint where our challenges are and then how the messaging reflects that and then ask for the community's help,” she said.

Those communication strategies were also a focus of the call as JCPH's communications staff unveiled a new “Together we move forward” campaign that will aim to reach residents about the need to recommit to COVID-19 prevention strategies to keep the economy going and allow the county to move on from the virus.

But while both the commissioners and the JCPH officials agreed it makes sense to focus on communications aimed at engaging residents, they said stronger steps could soon be needed.

“Something to just consider as we're going forward is, if two weeks from now our cases are still going through the roof and it looks like we're at risk of moving to Level 3, do we implement more strict requirements as a county so that we can get those numbers down really fast and try to stay on Level 2, rather than moving into level 3 and having the state kind of take some more control over it,” said Jim Rada, JCPH's director of environmental health science.


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