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'We can expect to see growth': Health officials discuss coronavirus cases, testing

Less social distancing and increased testing are factors in an increase of COVID-19 cases in Colorado.

DENVER —

There are three factors contributing to a steady increase in the number of cases of the novel coronavirus in Colorado — less social distancing, increased testing and a testing backlog, according to state health officials.

"Some of the increase can be attributed to increased testing, but certainly not all of it," said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

She and Sarah Tuneberg, who is the COVID-19 Innovation Response Team lead and senior COVID-19 advisor for CDPHE, provided an update Friday morning.

Herlihy said less social distancing in the state and a backlog of test results also factored into the latest spike in cases.

Since they reached their peak in the spring, the number of cases had declined, but at the end of June, she said they began to trend upward once again.

She also noted the number of hospitalizations have also steadily increased during that time period, but is still well below where they were in the spring.

"Unless social distancing levels change or other strategies decrease the transmission rate that is occurring in the state, we can expect to see growth in the number of cases and hospitalizations that are occurring," said Herlihy.

When asked about mask mandates, both said masks were effective, but suggested that mandates were less effective than grassroots efforts.

"We are really [asking] individuals to wear masks, families to wear masks and to make mask-wearing the culture in Colorado," said Thuneburg. "Research has shown that mandating something through public policy is not nearly as effective as change from the ground up. The more we do it as a community, the more effective it's going to be." 

Right now, there is about a 4% positivity rate, which means that out of the total number of tests administered, about 4% are coming back with positive results.

Tuneberg said that is in line with the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommendation of a positivity rate of 5% or lower. She said the goal is meant to indicate whether they're doing enough testing for the current level of disease within the community.

Earlier this week, it was announced that testing at the Pepsi Center would be limited due to a shortage of testing kits, however, state officials said they currently have enough testing supplies.

The City of Denver told 9NEWS the new rule will last indefinitely as the Pepsi Center site manages an increased demand.

City officials said that demand could be because the site was closed for four days for the holiday weekend, or because people might want a test after socializing during the Fourth of July.

RELATED: Pepsi Center site limited to 2,000 COVID-19 tests per day

RELATED: Average age of Coloradans testing positive for COVID-19 drops to 32

Also this week it was announced that the average age of a person testing positive in Colorado is 32, in April it was in the mid-40s.

Each age group under 50 make up less than 1% of the statewide deaths, data shows. Most healthy, young people will never even have to go to a hospital for COVID-19 complications.

However, Herlihy cautioned they can "certainly go on to infect others" even if their symptoms are mild.

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