The Return of COVID?

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Some Areas Reinstate Mask Mandates; No Restrictions Imposed Locally

 Trevor Phipps

Is COVID-19 gearing up for another rebound nationally and across the state, and can locals expect new possible restrictions and pending mask mandates?

These questions and more are persisting with a reported uptick in COVID cases. However, local officials have not given any indication of new restrictions, a touchy subject in both Teller and El Paso counties. If this development occurs, it would mark a drastic turn from the stance taken in the last six months by health experts.

Last May, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) dropped the public health emergency status for COVID-19.

This means that all of the federal mask regulations ceased due to the amount of cases declining.

People in hospitals and doctors’ offices mostly stopped masking up as all federal guidelines were released. But now that the fall flu season is on the way, experts are cautioning citizens that mask mandates and other regulations could see a return.

But to date, these pending restrictions have not permeated Teller County, an area where few people are spotted wearing masks. The only exception has been in some medical facilities, but even here restrictions have been relaxed.

National Reports Show a Rise in COVID-19 Cases

In various places across the country, cases of COVID-19 and new variants are starting to increase. So far, no state or federal government entities have put mask mandates back in place, but some hospitals, colleges, assisted living facilities, and employers have implemented new mask mandates due to an increase of COVID cases in certain parts of the country.

According to Newsweek, officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health held a press conference and said in the beginning of September that cases in the big California city have doubled in the matter of a week. L.A. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer was asked if the county would ever make masks mandatory again.

“‘Ever’ is not a word I’m comfortable with,” she replied during the press conference, according to news reports. “There’s not that level of certainty with this pandemic. I’m never going to say there’s not going to be a time when we all need to put our masks back on. I am going to say we certainly don’t all need to put our masks back on now. We are at a place where people make their own assessment.”

According to National Public Radio (NPR), the country has seen a late summer spike in COVID cases that has made some schools, hospitals and businesses start to encourage or in some cases require people to mask up again. CDC data shows that COVID hospitalizations increased by almost 19 percent in a single week and deaths increased by more than 21 percent.

CDC Director Mandy Cohen told NPR that around 10,000 people per week have been hospitalized with COVID-19 across the country. But, she did say that the number was much lower than the weekly numbers of 40,000 the nation saw at its peak during the month of August last year.

“We’re in a much different and better place in August of 2023,” Cohen told NPR.

However, Former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told that people should consider wearing masks again if COVID cases surge over the upcoming fall and winter months. “I am concerned that people will not abide by [masking] recommendations,” Fauci said. “We’re not talking about mandates or forcing anybody, but when you have a situation where the volume of cases in society gets to a reasonably high level, the vulnerable, the elderly, those with underlying conditions, are going to be more susceptible, if they do get infected, of getting severe disease leading to hospitalization. We know that. That’s a fact.”

Community Risk for COVID in Colorado and Teller County Still Ranked as Low

According to the website, Colorado overall has a low vulnerability level for COVID compared to other states. But, 15 percent of the state’s population live in high vulnerability areas.

And for Teller County, the area sports a growing population of senior citizens and elderly folks, a demographic that is at high risk in infected by COVID-19 .

 To date, though, Teller has been insulated well from the COVID surge.

Currently, weekly COVID hospital admissions sit at 3.3 per 100,000 people. COVID patients currently are only taking 0.8 percent of all hospital beds in the state. Both of these numbers are much lower than they were a year or two ago.

In fact, no regular COVID reports have been made by government officials for some time.

Since the national and state emergency status for COVID ended last May much of the data that used to be available before that is no longer being recorded. For example, the state’s website no longer keeps track of how many people tested positive, give a weekly average, or report on COVID-19 deaths.

But the state does still track hospitalizations from the disease and how many beds are taken up by COVID-19 patients. The graph does show that August and September have seen a slight increase in hospitalizations since last June.

As of August 25, the state had a total of 93 hospitalizations which is the highest Colorado has seen since Late last May. The weekly average though sits a little below at 86.6 hospitalizations.

On a per county basis, Pueblo, Las Animas, and Huerfano Counties are the worst areas for COVID at 3.5 weekly COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 people. Denver County has 2 weekly COVID admissions per 100K and El Paso County has only 1.4 weekly COVID admissions per 100,000 people.

In Teller County, the number is the same as El Paso County with 1.4 weekly COVID admissions per 100,000 people. Teller also sits at the state average of 0.8 percent of hospital beds being filled with COVID patients.

But since Teller County was one of the least masked places in the state, even during the height of the pandemic, don’t expect to see local businesses requiring masks in the near future.

But if COVID-19 cases keep increasing over the next few months, federally-regulated places like hospitals and assisted living facilities could start requiring visitors to wear masks yet again.  And if state regulations come into play, Teller officials may not have that much say in the matter.