DENVER, CO — March 5 represents two years since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Colorado. Now, with case rates falling and a return to normal life on the horizon, officials from the Department of Public Health and Environment have laid out a path forward, one that acknowledges that COVID-19 will become a part — albeit a manageable part — of that normal life.
Citing a dynamic, data-driven approach, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the department’s executive director said at a news conference Friday that Colorado will be prepared to quickly scale up any necessary responses should another variant or disease become a threat in the future.
Colorado, Hunsaker Ryan said, has the 10th lowest death rate in the nation, reporting 12,556 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began. The state’s positivity rates, hospitalizations and case numbers have all dropped, with the positivity rate at 3.6 percent and both cases and hospitalizations at “levels not seen since last summer.”
“The most recent wave was high and short and it left a layer of immunity behind,” Hunsaker Ryan said. “We don’t know how long immunity from the virus will last, especially in those who are unvaccinated, but between this and Colorado’s high vaccination rate, we know we should have much higher protection heading into the warmer months.”
Going forward, state health officials will be watching COVID-19 levels and patterns carefully so that, if the need arises, it can scale any necessary responses up to handle new variants or viruses that might come in the future. State health officials will be working to expand their wastewater surveillance program across the state, said Dr. Emily Travanty, the state lab director.
This program allows for the state health department to monitor trends in COVID-19 within specific communities, regardless of whether people within those communities are getting tested or not.
Looking ahead, four key “pillars” will mark Colorado’s future COVID-19 preparedness: hospital readiness, public health readiness and surge capacity, health workforce stabilization and expansion and federal government reforms.
“We’re at a point now where we have a lot of tools available to us, particularly these new therapeutics. It is critical we start normalizing covid into the traditional healthcare system so that people who test positive for COVID are connected with the therapeutics,” Scott Bookman, COVID-19 incident commander said in the press conference. “We need hospitals to have a reliable amount of surge capacity so we can scale to meet the demands. And we need to ensure the healthcare continuum is staffed and can meet the needs of the moment.”
As case rates drop, the state health department will be working behind the scenes to expand and update its surveillance techniques to ensure that Colorado will be able to get ahead of any potential future breakouts, Bookman said. Efforts to continue working to vaccinate Coloradans, especially in vulnerable communities, will continue.
“The state is prepared for a winter wave should immunity wane next winter,” Hunsaker Ryan said. “We still want people to get boosted or get immunized — this will certainly help us as we live with COVID-19.”
And with case rates, hospitalizations and positivity rates once again low and falling, the state, Gov. Polis said in an official statement Thursday, is now ready to “turn the page and finally return to normal pre-pandemic life.”