COVID-19 Forecast for El Paso County — August 16
Plus, how this year's NSO experience is shaping up
Good morning, and happy Monday. On this pandemic date last year an announcement informed the CC community of the quarantine for Loomis Hall. Read our coverage here! (This year, students are beginning to return to campus for in-person learning and living experiences.)
Today, Phoebe Lostroh returns to give her weekly COVID-19 forecast for El Paso County. 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.
EXTRA: Today we have an extra article looking into the New Student Orientation and Priddy Experience format for this year which is starting this week. These are orientations designed for first year and transfer students and led by student leaders.
➡️ICYMI: On Monday, Phoebe Lostroh returned to explain the Delta variant and how it is more contagious than variants that have come before it.
✉️In Your Inbox:
On Monday, Aug. 2, a student living on campus received a positive test and contact tracing has been conducted. Vaccinated individuals do not need to be quarantined if they come in contact with the person.
On Tuesday, Aug. 3, CC announced the expansion of the Colorado Pledge, a financial aid initiative designed to ensure Colorado College is affordable for Colorado students from low- and middle-income families. It has been adjusted to gross incomes up to $250,000.
On Friday, Aug. 6, CC Communications sent out an email explaining the return to campus protocols. These include student arrival procedures, wearing a mask while indoors, and NSO safety guidelines.
On Monday, Aug. 9, a student living off campus received a positive test and contact tracing has been conducted. Vaccinated individuals do not need to be quarantined if they come in contact with the person.
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 Aug. 14.
⚖️ How her predictions last week shaped up: Aug. 14 is the last day of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report week 32 in the national public health calendar. It is the 75th week since the first case was detected in El Paso County. Since March 13, 921 El Paso County residents have died of COVID-19. Last week, Lostroh predicted between 1,856 and 2,838 new cases in El Paso County for the week ending Aug. 12. There were actually 2,096 cases. For the week ending Aug. 26, Lostroh predicts 2,551-3,190 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 7 days. The accelerating estimate, using the increasing rate of new cases in the most recent two weeks, is in medium blue. The green, yellow, and red dotted lines show the thresholds for the CDC risk categories. As of Aug. 15, the incidence per 100,000 people in El Paso County was 154.5.
“A year ago in 2020, the seven-day rolling incidence per 100,000 was 54 and decreasing, whereas today, it is three times higher and increasing,” Lostroh said. “Last year on Aug. 12, we had a universal mask mandate and a cut-off for serving alcohol, as well as capacity limitations for some businesses. This year there are no county-wide public health measures intended to flatten the curve and most local school districts plan to begin in-person classes without requiring masks or having audited the ventilation.”
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 Aug. 15, the percent positivity in El Paso County was 7%.
“The 7-day rolling percent positivity is in the elevated range and is slowly rising,” Lostroh said.
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 Aug. 15, the seven-day average daily hospital admissions in El Paso County was at 7 admissions.
“The regional census of COVID-19 inpatients is higher than one week ago and 42% higher than two weeks ago,” Lostroh said. “The most recent data available indicate that 78.6% of the staffed ICU beds at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central were occupied and 94.3% of the staffed pediatric ICU beds at Children’s Hospital Colorado Springs were occupied as of July 30.”
Skip the tents take two: NSO and Priddy are staying local
Last year, Colorado College first expected to run the Priddy Experience with a hybrid model of Zoom meetings and some in-person activities, but that didn’t end up happening. Instead, new students stayed in their room and hopped on Zoom to engage in a virtual New Student Orientation.
This year, NSO, programming designed to introduce students to all aspects of campus life, and Priddy are expected to fulfill the hybrid model the college planned for last year. Normally, the experiences are in person, with students participating in long informative sessions in Armstrong’s Kathryn Mohrman Theatre and participating in Priddy trips, which normally leave campus to participate in service projects around Colorado and New Mexico.
“I think it’s kind of a combo of in person and virtual settings,” Associate Director of Outdoor Education David Crye told the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project.
Crye is in charge of organizing the Priddy Experience, which will remain within Colorado Springs, a big change from how Priddy trips have looked in the past. He has high hopes for a successful NSO this year with his sights set on building a sense of community within the incoming students and the city of Colorado Springs.
“We want everyone to come into college and into this community getting a feel for all the possibilities and opportunities that they can have over the next four or five years, but also start to build that community,” Crye said.
A Colorado Springs centered Priddy Experience
The Priddy Experience is going to be a localized series of day trips in and around Colorado Springs, unlike pre-pandemic trips which would leave the city.
“It’s a four day experience where we’re doing day trips,” NSO Intern Meredith Kuster ‘23 told the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project. “Groups will be rotating between doing a day of service work in the Springs, a day hike, and a cultural day.”
The fourth day, entitled CC Fest, will consist of all orientation groups remaining on campus together, Kuster said. There will be food trucks and activities for the participants.
There is still a lot of uncertainty about the extent and size of in-person events, but a lot of work is going into the development of a COVID-safe and fun Priddy Experience. NSO Intern Arity Sherwood ‘22 told the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project that this year shows promise for a successful experience.
“We’ve never had it this way, we’ve never done projects in this way, and it’s super exciting that we get the chance to help create this,” Sherwood said. “We hope it’s going to be super awesome for all of our mentors and incoming first years.”
Sherwood had the opportunity to lead in-person NSO trips for trippees, participants of Outdoor Education trips, beginning her sophomore year and virtual and hybrid the following year.
“I found during the virtual trip, as much as we tried to have that connection between all of our trippees and that connection between our group, it was just a lot harder,” Sherwood said.
Kuster, on the other hand, has only led virtual NSO and is hopeful for a more face-to-face experience. “It’ll probably be easier for the leaders to connect with the incoming students because we’re anticipating it to be mostly in-person,” she said.
Sherwood is also hoping that leaders will be able to connect with first-years better than the previous year’s virtual experience and is looking forward to the location change from the normal Priddy Experience.
“I think it will be a great opportunity for students to actually learn about where they’re living; CC is such a bubble,” Sherwood said. “It’ll be nice for the students, instead of going out to New Mexico or somewhere a little bit further, they’ll actually be able to see where they’re directly living.”
NSO: Programming other than the Priddy Experience
Outside of the four days of the Priddy Experience, there are required sessions and programming for incoming students. Larger required sessions will be held on Zoom in the mornings, with opportunities for discussion in small, in-person groups later.
In the afternoon, there are different conference-style sessions offered, entitled Create Your Own CC Adventure. Students will be able to choose what sessions they want to attend based on their own interests. These will be mostly in-person and students will need to pre-register for a spot. Two sessions are required for incoming students.
Amy Hill, Director of Campus Activities and Student Orientation, told the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project through email that “The NSO schedule takes inspiration from the Block Plan and will give students a taste of a ‘typical’ class day; required sessions are offered each morning and the rest of the day is open for students to get connected to campus resources and peers, relax in your room, or walk around campus as well as participate in Priddy meetings and evening social events.”
This format allows students to customize their orientation in a way that is helpful to them and doesn’t overload them with information, Hill said.
There are also social nights tentatively scheduled throughout NSO such as an art night at Bemis School of Art, a play at the Fine Arts Center, and an outdoor movie. At all events where students may be unable to social distance or are indoors, masks will be required to be worn.
“I feel that as long as everyone is vaccinated, I feel totally fine going everywhere without them [masks] and I would be fine in a group setting without a mask, especially if it’s outside,” incoming first year Emi Cooper told the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project. “But I totally get if we’re all in one big room then we have to wear a mask.”
Cooper is looking forward to coming to campus and meeting new people, all while staying safe. Hill is aware of COVID-19 problems that may occur and is hoping for a safe orientation.
“We are hopeful that due to our high vaccination rates on campus, that NSO will return to some level of ‘normal,’ but are cognizant that risk levels outside of CC and off-campus are different due to the Delta variant,” Hill said.
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.