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Jefferson County Public Health discusses the data behind relaxing restrictions

Starting May 9, most of the Denver metro area will begin 'Safer at Home' guidelines.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — What time is the right time to reopen Jefferson County? Many of the counties around Colorado already started the state's "Safer at Home" guidelines. But, most of the Denver metro area, including Jefferson County, decided to wait until May 9.

"Four key indicators to our move to Safer at Home," Jefferson County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Response Coordinator Christine Billings said.

She and Epidemiologist Kate Watkins have been watching the data to know when the more relaxed Safer at Home guidelines should take place.

Under Safer at Home, nonessential businesses and offices can reopen with strict social distancing and disinfecting practices in place. Restaurants, bars, and coffee shops still have to keep their seating areas closed.

9NEWS talked with Billings and Watkins about how the numbers are influencing the decisions on how to handle COVID-19.

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Editor's note: Responses have been edited for context and clarity. 

9NEWS: What are the important factors for Jefferson County Public Health in deciding to reduce restrictions?

Billings: One of them was the ability to test symptomatic individuals and have adequate testing. The other was a system in place to ensure that all of our positive cases could receive care, that we could identify them and they can be moved safely into a self-quarantine and self-isolation system. And then, the ability of the healthcare system to be able to treat the severely ill individuals of our populations. 

Looking at our trends in cases, so we've seen a decrease in cases over the last 14 days. Those were the four indicators that were fed into the decision to move to Safer at Home along with extensive conversation with the other metro area health directors.

What is the key number right now?

Watkins: It's less about the overall decrease in cases and more that it's steadying. It has not skyrocketed and tripled overnight which is good. 

The number of people hospitalized for COVID is declining which is a good indicator that things are getting better. 

Has the COVID-19 testing process improved for Jefferson County?

Billings: When this first started, it was very challenging to locate tests. So, the strict guidance was that we were to only test symptomatic individuals which as you know does not help us catch asymptomatic cases in the community. So, if we are looking to control the spread of disease, it's very important to be able to test anyone who is potentially exposed or symptomatic.

We are now requesting those supplies directly from the state lab and in doing so we are able to have direct communication with (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) who is doing the testing. They support our sites with courier services so that the speed of testing is increased. 

What numbers would cause Jefferson County Public Health to consider reinstating a Stay-at-Home order?

Watkins: We'll see an increase in the number of cases as people start to move around more. It's more a matter of whether or not our hospitals get to a capacity where they can't treat people anymore. 

That would be one of the those trigger points of saying maybe we need to limit people's interaction again in the future. 

That's our major concern is hospital capacity and right now they are doing very well with that.

How does starting Safer at Home 12 days after other counties around the state impact Jefferson County?

Billings: That extension in time allowed us to work hand-in-hand with the business partners in our communities.

Having that extension in time, that was a huge benefit to our community. We are getting questions all the time about the nuances of these guidance documents. The business community wants to do this right.

This is step one in a very, very long phased-out return to normal.

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