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Health officials 'concerned' about uptick in positive COVID-19 cases

Gov. Jared Polis also announced a new "dial dashboard" that will help guide counties and empower more local decision-making.

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) at a Tuesday news conference said state health officials are concerned about a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases and announced a new dial dashboard to help guide counties using current data.

Current cumulative cases in the state stand at 62,099 and, although hospitalization and positivity rates have been in a plateau, Dr. Rachel Herlihy with the Colorado Dept. of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) said that is a change from a few weeks ago when the state was seeing a decline in numbers.

Herlihy specifically cited an increase in positive cases among college-aged students — people ages 18 to 22.

"[Our] concern is that those cases will spill over into more vulnerable age groups where we could see hospitalizations," Herlihy said. 

Herlihy said CDPHE has also seen "substantial" increases in outbreaks among college-aged people, six in the last week. Based on the trend framework, she said CDPHE expects that number to double in the coming weeks.

Herlihy said it's "difficult" to understand exactly what's happening in college settings, but that CDPHE is working closely with county health departments and colleges.

Her comments come the same day as University of Colorado-Boulder (CU-Boulder) Chancellor Phil DiStefano released a letter pleading with students to adhere to COVID-19 safety practices, citing a dramatic increase in cumulative positive cases that have risen to 308 in just three weeks.

RELATED: CU-Boulder experiences dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases

COVID-19 dial

Also on Tuesday, Polis announced the launch of the COVID-19 dial dashboard, which tracks the progress of each of Colorado's 64 counties using key metrics that include:

  • New cases, which indicates how many people are affected by the virus in each county.
  • Percent positivity, which shows whether there is sufficient COVID-19 testing to capture the level of virus transmission.
  • Impact on hospitalizations, which shows whether hospitalizations are increasing, stable or declining.

Polis said the aim of the dial is to empower county leaders and decision-makers with the tools they need to make choices at the local level.

"It is a tool for counties to use to make life during the pandemic more sustainable, allowing us to balance, to the greatest extent possible, controlling the virus with our social and economic needs," the website says.

The dial includes five levels based on the data, and counties will move back and forth between levels, depending on the three metrics above.

As the dial moves left, toward the "Protect Our Neighbors" phase, which is the least restrictive, more people within that county can participate in various activities.

Counties must meet and sustain all three metrics for two weeks, as well as consult with CDPHE, to move to a less restrictive level.

Polis said the dial will replace the current variance process.

Mask mandate

Tuesday was Polis' first news coronavirus conference since he extended a statewide mask mandate Saturday for an additional 30 days, through Oct. 12. He said the mask mandate is part of the state's progress in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

"The masks are working," Polis said on Friday. "We’re all frustrated with masks. I can’t wait for [the] mask requirement to be over and the fire ban to be over."

The order applies to anyone over the age of 10. People who have medical issues or disabilities that preclude them from wearing masks are exempt from the mandate.

However, the current order was amended to say individuals performing "life rites" are exempt from the face-covering mandate while a life rite is being performed. “Life rites” include wedding ceremonies, graduations, funeral services, baptisms, bris ceremonies and other religious ceremonies, the governor's office said in a news release.

RELATED: Polis extends mask order for another 30 days

RELATED: Group withdraws lawsuit challenging Polis' last call executive order

RELATED: Colorado coronavirus latest numbers, Sept. 15