In case you missed it: COVID-19 notes from the week

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As we head into the school year, we also enter another precarious time in the pandemic.

By Drew Kartos | drew.kartos@state.co.us | August 17, 2021, 9:00 a.m. MST

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This summer, as we celebrated our independence, we also celebrated downtrends in the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. But as wildfires, mudslides, and air quality have dominated headlines, the Delta variant has been circulating primarily among unvaccinated individuals. As we head into the school year, we also enter another precarious time in the pandemic where the number of new cases could go either way. But before we jump to any conclusions, let’s take a look at the situation here in Colorado.

What do the data show? 

As expected, there’s a clear difference in COVID-19 rates between those who are fully vaccinated and the unvaccinated. The figure below shows a much higher rate of cases among unvaccinated individuals. 

The same goes for hospitalizations. Nearly all COVID-19 hospitalizations are among unvaccinated individuals.

The fourth wave of cases may be leveling off, but we’ll have to see what happens in the next few weeks.

While hospitalizations tend to lag behind cases, there’s still a large number of Coloradans currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

At the current trajectory (blue line), we’d expect hospitalizations to continue to rise. But if we reach an 80 percent vaccination rate among adults (green line), we could significantly reduce that rate.

The Delta variant (seen in pink) is driving the pandemic in the U.S. and now represents most of the cases in Colorado. While we’re still learning more about the Delta variant, data show it’s much more contagious than previous versions of COVID-19.

While this figure shows a crude analysis of vaccine effectiveness, Dr. Herlihy explains that we’re closer to the 80% vaccine effectiveness range — in large part due to the circulating Delta variant.

Should you be worried about breakthrough cases?

While breakthrough cases — where a person gets infected despite being fully vaccinated — are rare, they are rising. That means there’s a chance a vaccinated individual could get mildly sick with the virus and transmit it to others. But even as breakthrough cases occur, as expected, the vaccine continues to be highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization.

We’re seeing more breakthrough cases among older age groups. This figure shows the distribution of breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals by age group. 

In light of this rise in breakthrough cases, testing is becoming more important among vaccinated individuals. This helps identify the level of transmission in the state and alert people if they’ve been exposed. If you experience any COVID-19 symptoms or are exposed to someone with COVID-19, please make sure to get tested — even if you are vaccinated. As a precaution, wear a mask for 14 days to prevent transmission to others.

When are you supposed to wear a mask?

This summer, the CDC recommended that people in areas of high viral transmission wear masks in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status. Coloradans are encouraged to keep masks handy for communities or businesses with additional mask requirements. 

But there are some places where you are required to wear a mask, even if you’re vaccinated. Those include:

  • Nursing homes and residential care facilities.
  • Public transportation (e.g., planes, buses, trains, airports, stations).

If you are unvaccinated, you are required to wear masks in:

  • Homeless shelters.
  • Prisons.
  • Jails.
  • Hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, and other health care settings.

How worried should you be about your children going back to school?

As a parent of a 5-year-old, I feel confident sending him off to kindergarten because I know school districts in Colorado are making sure schools are the safest environments for kids. In response to CDPHE’s updated school guidance, school districts have been working with local public health departments to develop layered protections such as regular testing, symptom screening, mask-wearing, staying home when sick, physical distancing, and improved ventilation. 

Like most parents, I hope schools remain in-person for the entire school year because we all know how difficult remote learning can be. To help ensure schools stay in person, families can also add an extra layer of protection by making sure brothers, sisters, moms, and dads who are eligible are all vaccinated. Although kids generally experience milder symptoms, we’re seeing a rise in pediatric hospitalizations in places like Florida and Texas. The myth that kids can’t get very sick from COVID-19 is just not true. Until the vaccines are available for kids under 12, we need to do all we can to keep our kids safe.

The bottom line: As the pandemic evolves, so does our situation in Colorado. Like a dial, we’re constantly calibrating our response to have the least impact on our daily lives while keeping the virus in check. The more the virus is circulating, the more we have to adjust our strategies to respond to emerging threats from the virus.

Overall, vaccines continue to be the best strategy to prevent the spread of the virus. If you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, please do so as soon as possible to help protect those who can’t get vaccinated or aren’t yet eligible to receive the vaccine — our kids.