Good morning, and happy Monday. On this pandemic date last year, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center had planned for this to be the last performance of the play “Lonely Planet” by Steven Dietz. (This year, the FAC is back up and running. Currently, they are in the midst of a summer camp for the Youth Rep Ensemble which will culminate in a performance of “She Loves Me” on July 29.)
Today, Phoebe Lostroh returns to give her weekly COVID-19 forecast for El Paso County and to explain what the COVID-19 fourth wave means. Lostroh is a professor of molecular biology at Colorado College on scholarly leave who is serving as the program director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the National Science Foundation.
➡️ICYMI: On Monday, Phoebe Lostroh returned to give her weekly forecast and to explain the updated CC mask mandate.
✉️In Your Inbox:
On Wednesday, July 7, President L. Song Richardson announced Mary Ann Schwartz Graffeo to become the new vice president for advancement.
On Friday, July 16, CC’s Around the Block newsletter sent out an email highlighting what happened during the summer session Block B. This includes Dean Rochelle Dickey’s promotion to Dean of Students/VP for Student Life, the results of music research, which you can listen to here, and much more!
NOTES: These forecasts represent her own opinion and not necessarily those of the National Science Foundation or Colorado College. She used the public El Paso County dashboard for all data. Lostroh prepared these forecasts on July 17.
⚖️ How her predictions last week shaped up: July 17 is the last day of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report week 28 in the national public health calendar. It is the 71st week since the first case was detected in El Paso County. Since March 13, 886 El Paso County residents have died of COVID-19. Last week, Lostroh predicted between 798 and 905 new cases in El Paso County for the week ending July 15. There were actually 948 cases.
Predicted cumulative reported cases in El Paso County
🗝️ Key points: Reported cases are in black circles while the red, grey, and light blue symbols provide estimates based on curve-fitting for the most recent 21, 14, and seven days. The best-case estimate using the declining rate of new cases in the most recent two weeks is in medium blue. For the week ending July 29, Lostroh predicts 896-1,138 new cases in El Paso County.
Rolling seven-day cumulative incidence in El Paso County with predictions
🗝️ Key points: The actual calculated incidence is in black Xs, while the red, grey, and light blue symbols provide estimates based on curve-fitting for the most recent 21, 14, and seven days, respectively. The best-case estimate using the declining rate of new cases in the most recent two weeks is in medium blue. The green, yellow, and red-dotted lines show the CDC’s thresholds for risk categories. As of July 18, the incidence per 100,000 people in El Paso County was 72.
“The trend for 7-day COVID-19 incidence per 100,000 residents is increasing slowly,” Lostroh said. “If the decreasing trend had continued we would have crossed into the safer ‘Elevated risk’ category last week.”
Seven-day rolling percent positivity compared with daily percent positivity in El Paso County
🗝️ Key points: The seven-day rolling percent positivity for nasopharyngeal tests for viral nucleic acids is plotted in dark blue diamonds, while the daily percent positivity is plotted in open light blue diamonds. The green, yellow, and red-dotted lines show the thresholds for the CDC’s risk categories. As of July 18, the percent positivity in El Paso County was 3.5%.
New COVID-19 hospitalizations compared with the regional census of hospitalized COVID-19 patients
🗝️ Key points: Daily hospitalizations are plotted in blue using the left-hand axis, while the census of regional hospitalized COVID-19 patients is plotted in red on the right-hand axis. As of July 18, the seven-day average daily hospital admissions in El Paso County was at 3.8 admissions.
“The case hospitalization rate has gone up at about the same time that the Delta variant of the virus has taken over the population of viruses in Colorado,” Lostroh said.
COVID-19 vaccinations in El Paso County
🗝️ Key points: The El Paso County vaccine dashboard tracks county vaccine distribution. The number of people who have been fully vaccinated in El Paso County is indicated with purple symbols. El Paso County has administered a total of 597,781 doses. Some of those doses were the first shot someone received, while others were the second shot to complete the vaccine series. As of July 18, 291,807 people have received both shots and thus have completed the immunization series.
“The current pace of immunization puts the county at serious risk of a fall wave of cases,” Lostroh said. “At the current rate, it would take until February of 2022 for everyone in the county to be vaccinated. Thus, we should be planning instead for many people to remain unvaccinated.”
Q-and-A with Lostroh: Our resident microbiologist on Governor Polis’ declaration to end the COVID-19 health emergency order
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CC COVID-19 Reporting Project: On July 8, Governor Polis declared an end to the COVID-19 health emergency and signed a new “Recovery Executive Order” which is focused on returning the state to normal. To what extent do you think that this could become a problem for El Paso County as the Delta variant cases continue?
Lostroh: If we had the same type of Public Health Office and relationships with other county leadership that they have in Denver or Boulder, I think it makes sense to end the emergency because most people would be vaccinated. But in fact, El Paso County and some other counties in Colorado have opted out of mass vaccination and we’re no longer seeing much of an increase in vaccination as the weeks go by. So, we actually are still in a COVID emergency. Many public health professionals in the United States are saying in and around the world, this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated. In El Paso County we have about 40% of people who are fully vaccinated. That is of all people, not just of eligible people, but of all people, because that’s what the virus cares about. The Delta virus can infect people who are unvaccinated and only partially vaccinated, so I’m emphasizing fully vaccinated, and we are in a situation where cases are going to go up. Our case numbers were going down, then they reversed and went flat, and now they’re kind of ticking up again. That’s what you would expect as the Alpha virus gets taken over by the Delta virus. It’s pretty concerning, and it’s going to keep getting worse as we head into the month when everybody starts to go back to school activities.
CCRP: COVID-19 is said to be turning into the pandemic of the unvaccinated and a fourth wave is being discussed. What does this mean for populations who are unvaccinated?
Lostroh: What we’re seeing in places like Arkansas and Tennessee is that a big fourth wave is already there. The vaccination rates in our county are higher than their low counties, so I don’t know that we’re going to see a surge as large, but we are at risk of a fourth wave. Unfortunately, the fourth wave is going to be among people who are not vaccinated, which is a lot of young people. I’m concerned that we are setting up an evolutionary situation where we are selecting for variants of the virus that can infect younger and younger people. So if that’s the case, there could be a variant that emerges that is better at infecting teenagers and children than the ones we have right now. I hope that doesn’t happen and I don’t know if that can happen. I don’t know if the virus has that biological potential, but if it does, we are setting up a perfect storm of selection for those kinds of variants. Remember, the chances of you getting hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 goes down dramatically if you’ve been fully vaccinated, and that’s just not true if you’re not vaccinated. You’re still at the same risk of hospitalization and death as you were this winter during our last big surge. I know there are states where vaccination levels are even lower than here in El Paso County, and they’ve already projected that their hospitals are going to be overwhelmed.
CCRP: Speaking about a fourth wave and possible outbreaks of COVID-19 among unvaccinated people, how do you think CC will be impacted as the college prepares to begin classes in the next month with an in-person campus?
Lostroh: Well, everybody’s gonna be vaccinated, we all agreed to that. So get your vaccine card photograph uploaded to the website and they’re asking everyone to do that. I think it could be sort of a psychological and emotional burden on people, the fourth wave, more than an actual caseload wave on campus. You know, maybe people are not going to get infected or exposed on campus here, but maybe they have family back home who are at higher risk because they’re living in one of these low vaccination counties. Or, students have parents who have jobs that can only be done in person, that can’t work remotely. So, even if there is an outbreak, they have to keep going. I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to see big outbreaks on campus when we all are agreeing to be vaccinated, but it’s still going to be a stressful and weird time.
About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project
The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is created by Colorado College student journalists Cameron Howell, Will Taylor, and Ellie Gober in partnership with The Catalyst, Colorado College’s student newspaper. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time.
The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community.