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'We've reached a fork in the road': Denver mayor warns of increase in COVID-19 cases

Denver's coronavirus case count is at its highest level since May, Mayor Hancock announced on Monday.

DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock warned of a concerning increase in COVID-19 case rates during a news briefing on Monday.

"We’ve reached a fork in the road,” Hancock said. “As we’ve all seen over the last month, our case numbers are continuing to increase at a concerning rate, especially here in Denver.”

Hancock said Denver’s seven-day average of daily case rates, which are at 127, are as high now as they were at the height of the pandemic in May. He said hospitalization rates have also risen steadily over the last several weeks. 

“During the week of October 3, our seven day average of hospitalizations was at 126,” Hancock said. “Today, just a week later, the average is 174 – a 37% increase.”

According to the state's COVID-19 Dashboard, Denver's status is listed as "Safer-At-Home, Level 2: Concern." Hancock said the city could go back to a more restrictive Level 3 status if COVD-19 trends don't start to turn around.

“That means our capacity in restaurants, retail business, event spaces and personal services, among others get cut in half,” Hancock said. “When so many business right now are struggling just to stay open, that would mean absolute devastation to those businesses.”

Denver Public Schools (DPS) Superintendent Susana Cordova also spoke at the briefing to provide an update on the school district's plans for the fall semester.

“We’ve been gradually and carefully opening up our elementary schools to in-person learning over the past several weeks because we know the importance of public education for the 92,000 plus students we serve in Denver Public Schools," Cordova said.  

First-grade DPS students were phased into in-person last week. Plans vary by school and were distributed by individual principals. Students in grades
2-5 will return to full in-person learning on Oct. 21, which coincides with the beginning of the second quarter.

Cordova said DPS will release a COVID-19 dashboard later this week that publicly shows what the district’s experience with the virus has looked like in schools so far.

Students in grades 6-12 were expected to begin in-person instruction on Oct. 21, but on Monday, Cordova announced that the plan has changed. 

In an email to “Team DPS,” Superintendent Susana Cordova explained the decision:

“However, officials at Denver Health have urged more caution in looking at our middle and high schools. Older students have a higher COVID risk, and given the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Denver, we have determined that most middle and high school students will continue with remote instruction for the first three weeks of the second quarter -- through Friday, Nov. 6.”

Cordova said the district's health partners assured the district that elementary-aged students are at a significantly lower COVID risk. She said the district knows that remote learning presents special challenges for elementary students and their families. 

In-person instruction for those grades will look different depending on the school. Cordova said students would have a minimum of 10 hours per week of in-person instruction, but said some schools might have more.

Students have the option to continue with 100% online learning. That decision is binding for the duration of the first semester (end of December) but could be revisited after that, according to DPS.

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