Virus Outbreak Colorado Schools

Cristina Lorenzano wears a face mask while waiting with her teachers for the first day of in-class learning since the start of the pandemic at Garden Place Elementary School, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in north Denver. All students, visitors and staff are required to wear face coverings while in Denver Public Schools regardless of vaccination status with the start of the school year.

The number of coronavirus cases in K-12 schools across Colorado has nearly doubled in the last week, updated statewide outbreak data showed on Wednesday.

The number of active COVID-19 cases among students and staff at elementary, middle and high schools statewide rose to 1,583, up from 886 cases reported the week prior, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Colorado’s seven-day average of infections is about 1,700 cases, state data showed. That's compared to about 300 in June, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy previously said.

The highly transmissible delta variant continues to drive increases in case numbers statewide and accounts for more than 99% of new cases this week, she said.

At a news conference Wednesday, Herlihy told reporters school children aged 6-17 continue to see the highest rates of infection. But of the nearly 900 people hospitalized with COVID or suspected to have it, only 12 of them are 17 years old or younger, she said.

Nearly 18 months after the pandemic hit Colorado and almost a year after the first vaccines were administered to adults, there is still no COVID-19 vaccine available for children 11 and under. State data on Wednesday showed about 75% of eligible teens and adults have received one dose of the vaccine, and nearly 69% are fully immunized.

Among Colorado’s largest counties with 100,000 or more residents, Douglas, Mesa, Larimer, El Paso and Pueblo counties are seeing school cases higher than the state average, data showed.

El Paso County, the state’s largest county by population, has roughly two times the rate of cases in schools compared to other large counties in the state. El Paso County reported 358 total cases among K-12 schools on Wednesday, the most of any Colorado county.

The largest school outbreaks are all in District 49 schools, including Power Technical Early College, Horizon Middle School and Vista Ridge High School. Those outbreaks were all reported between Aug. 16 and Sept. 1, data show.

In the last week, several new El Paso County schools have joined the outbreak list, including Lewis-Palmer Elementary and Prairie Winds Elementary in Lewis-Palmer School District 38; Ranch Creek Elementary in Academy District 20; and Thomas MacLaren School, Trailblazer Elementary and William J. Palmer High School in District 11.

Douglas County reported the second-highest number of school cases this week, state outbreak data show. As of Wednesday there are 305 COVID-19 cases in Douglas County schools, with the largest outbreaks reported between Aug. 19 and Sept. 1 at Douglas County High School, Mesa Middle School and STEM School Highlands Ranch, all in the Douglas County School District. No additional Douglas County schools joined the active outbreak list this week.

There are 56 active cases in Pueblo County schools, data showed, at Bradford Elementary, Corwin International Magnet School and Dolores Huerta Preparatory School, all in Pueblo School District 60. Other outbreaks are reported at Connect Charter School and Swallows Charter Academy, both in District 70.

El Paso County has not issued a mask mandate for schools, although some school districts have enacted their own. Douglas County commissioners voted unanimously this month to leave the Tri-County Health Department — which provides public health services to Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties — after a disagreement over the health department’s school mask mandate. In Pueblo County, people 2 and older must wear masks indoors at all childcare centers, youth camps and K-12 schools.

Among the state’s largest counties, Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Jefferson and Weld counties were all well below the statewide rate for school infections. School districts in those counties also have mask mandates.

Herlihy on Wednesday touted the effectiveness of masks at preventing infection, encouraging parents to mask their children in school and in other indoor public spaces.

“We know what works to decrease the risk of disease transmission and we know that masks play a really important role in decreasing transmission,” she said. “… We know that the risk to children right now is higher than it’s ever been during the pandemic because of the delta variant being more transmissible.”

Public health officials on Wednesday also encouraged unvaccinated people who are eligible to receive the vaccine get their inoculations, saying it was the best way to prevent contracting the disease and the best defense against severe illness and hospitalization.

“Whether you’re mandated or not, the key to us returning to our normal lives is to get this vaccine,” state COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman said. “While we may all be done with this virus, it is not done with us.”

Reporter

Breeanna Jent covers El Paso County government. She previously worked as the editorial assistant for the Pikes Peak Newspapers and joined their sister paper, The Gazette, in 2020.

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