K-12 schools and colleges were the sites of one-quarter of new COVID-19 outbreaks over the past week and a half, and also home to nearly one-third of all active outbreaks, according to El Paso County data.
An outbreak at Discovery Canyon Campus, a K-12 school in District 20, was reported by El Paso County Public Health on March 24, involving eight cases. An outbreak at the dining hall at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was reported by the county health department on March 27, involving two cases. Six additional outbreaks were reported since March 24.
Schools are the third most common site of COVID-19 cases stemming from outbreaks in the county. Positives stemming from school and college outbreaks comprise more than 5% of cases at active outbreak sites in the county, second only to the jail — home to more than half of cases — and offices and indoor workspaces, home to more than 14% of cases, county data shows.
Positives stemming from school, college and childcare center outbreaks make up more than 9% of cases at resolved outbreak sites, which falls behind only to skilled nursing facilities, home to nearly 36% of cases, and assisted living facilities, home to more than 15% of cases, according to county data.
The department updates its outbreaks list weekly on Wednesdays. It focuses its efforts on settings identified by the state as being high risk for large outbreaks, including residential care facilities, jails, schools, camps and colleges, according to its website.
The county’s seven-day incidence rate sat at 192.3 per 100,000 residents on Saturday, with a positivity rate of 7.19%, according to the public health dashboard. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated 5% as the maximum safe positivity rate for opening communities.
Health officials said last week that the county’s virus numbers are concerning.
“Our metrics are trending in the wrong direction right now, moving us further away from Level Blue,” Fadi Youkhana, epidemiologist for El Paso County Public Health, said, referring to the state's color-coded system of pandemic restrictions. El Paso County remains at level Yellow.
New cases over the past seven days had held between between 800 and 1,000 since March 1 until March 23, when cases topped 1,000 over the past week. That number climbed to 1,389 on Saturday, according to the dashboard.
Additionally, the county leads Colorado with the highest number of confirmed cases of two highly infectious variant strains of COVID-19, state health data show.
El Paso County has 144 of Colorado’s nearly 900 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 strain first discovered in the United Kingdom, according to the state health department. Of the state’s 328 cases of the B.1.427.429 “California” variant, 46 are in El Paso County.
Phoebe Lostroh, a Colorado College microbiology professor, said she hopes the rise in new cases is not a sign of a forthcoming surge.
“A few months ago, we relaxed all our safety precautions pretty quickly, one after another, and then we got a surge,” she said. “I hope that’s not what’s happening now — that we’re at the beginning of another surge, but don’t know it.”
The state and county health departments are hoping to combat the rising numbers by ramping up vaccination efforts. The county health agency has given more than 250,000 doses and fully vaccinated more than 100,000 residents.
On Thursday, vaccine eligibility was opened up to everyone over the age of 15.
Meanwhile, all nine of the county’s public school districts have reopened their classrooms to in-person learning.
It is not yet known what effect spring break — which ended for most districts last Monday — will have on COVID-19 incidence in schools and their surrounding communities, if any.
The following is what has been reported about COVID-19 incidence and quarantines in the region’s largest school districts as of Sunday.
Colorado Springs School District 11 had 26 positive coronavirus cases as of Saturday, with a cumulative total of 695 positive cases. For more information, see the district dashboard at www.d11.org/coviddashboard.
Academy School District 20’s showed 59 active isolations and 784 active quarantines. It also shows a cumulative positive COVID-19 count of 607, up from 566 the week before. To learn more, visit asd20-covid-19-dashboard.netlify.app.
Lewis-Palmer District 38’s dashboard, updated Friday, shows eight current positive cases and 27 quarantines. The district has had 443 positive cases since August. To visit the district’s dashboard, go to www.lewispalmer.org/Page/14024.
Widefield District 3 last updated its COVID-19 dashboard March 30, when it reported a total of 229 confirmed cases and 10 outbreaks for the school year. To learn more, visit wsd3.org/about/covid-19.
District 49 showed 32 students in quarantine as of Saturday, with 10 reported staff exposures over the last 28 days. Its dashboard can be seen at https://d49.app.envisio.com/corporate/performance_analytics/published/zr2fEv.
Harrison School District 2 reported 11 cases last month, for a total of 184 for the school year. To learn more, visit www.hsd2.org/Page/4341.
Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 reported a school-year total of 176 positive cases, up from 152 the week before. To learn more, visit https://www.cmsd12.org/district_information/c_o_v_i_d-19_updates/d12_c_o_v_i_d-19_dashboard.
Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 reported 14 positive cases from March 19 to April 2, with one active outbreak as of April 2. It has seen 257 cumulative positives between students and staff. For information on the district’s COVID-19 incidence, visit https://www.ffc8.org/domain/1565.
Manitou Springs School District 14 reported four current positive cases as of Friday. For more information, visit https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zmLYGV3KDEJeNZvFSMRBDtBY79aH3qRtYT-Gr69O4eY/.