COVID-19 Forecast for El Paso County — August 2
Plus, our resident microbiologist on the Delta variant
Good morning, and happy Monday. On this pandemic date last year, many events had been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 cases including the Public Star Party hosted by the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society at the Space Foundation Discovery Center. (This year, the Star Parties are back and the next one will be a meteor shower watch party on Aug. 11.)
Today, Phoebe Lostroh returns to give her weekly COVID-19 forecast for El Paso County and to explain why the Delta variant is more contagious than older variants. 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 fourth wave of COVID-19.
✉️In Your Inbox:
On Thursday, July 22, President L. Song Richardson sent an email explaining her format to connect with the CC community, entitled Conversations with the President.
On Friday, July 23, Vice President for Student Life, Rochelle T. Dickey, and Director for the Butler Center, Rosalie M. Rodriguez, sent out a message in support of the DACA students attending CC after a Federal Judge in Texas said DACA was unlawful.
On Monday, July 26, CC Communications announced a “sneak peak” of the Ed Robson Arena and Yalich Student Services Center and a tour opportunity on September 17.
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 31.
⚖️ How her predictions last week shaped up: July 31 is the last day of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report week 30 in the national public health calendar. It is the 73rd week since the first case was detected in El Paso County. Since March 13, 903 El Paso County residents have died of COVID-19. Last week, Lostroh predicted between 896 and 1,138 new cases in El Paso County for the week ending July 29. There were actually 1,582 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 Aug. 12, Lostroh predicts 1,856-2,838 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 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 CDC’s thresholds for risk categories. As of Aug. 1, the incidence per 100,000 people in El Paso County was 127.3.
“CDC recommends that people mask up when outside their households in regions with ‘substantial’ or ‘High’ transmission,” Lostroh said. “Elevated new cases are probably straining the public health contact-tracing system and it seems likely that we will still be in the ‘high transmission’ category when local K-12 schools start up again.”
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. 1, the percent positivity in El Paso County was 6.4%.
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. 1, the seven-day average daily hospital admissions in El Paso County was at 6.3 admissions.
“We should expect increasing hospitalizations as the rate of cases increases over the next two weeks and because the delta variant causes more serious disease in unvaccinated people,” Lostroh said. “Some states, such as Arkansas, are seeing elevated hospitalizations for pediatric COVID-19 cases.”
Q-and-A with Lostroh: Our resident microbiologist on the Delta variant
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CC COVID-19 Reporting Project: The delta variant has presented itself to be more contagious than variants that have come before it. What makes it more contagious and what impact can it have on the body?
Lostroh: The reason this delta variant is so much more transmissible is that it replicates to a higher amount in our bodies and it replicates faster. So, they did a test where they looked at the number of virus genomes in somebody’s nose for the old ancestral strain and then they did that for delta as well, and the delta number was 1,000 times higher than the ancestral value. So it really replicates to higher amounts in the body and the higher amount that is being expelled. If someone was expelling 1,000 particles in one breath, now they’re expelling many more. Also, viruses that replicate that fast in our tissues can cause a lot of tissue damage just from virus replication itself. So, while most people who are vaccinated are not getting ill enough to be hospitalized or to risk death with a delta virus variant, the people who cannot be vaccinated are at higher risk of getting really sick because of this tissue destruction. We’re seeing some concerning situations in the country of Indonesia, and for sure in the state of Arkansas, we’re seeing more pediatric cases because kids under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated. I’m very concerned about the possibility of the Delta variant causing a wave among pediatric patients just at the back-to-school time of year.
CCRP: People who have been vaccinated can get the Delta variant and spread it just as easily to other people. How will we combat the virus if it can circulate through people even if they are vaccinated and what should people who have been vaccinated do if they get COVID-19?
Lostroh: Well, I think that what we’re ultimately going to see is a different updated vaccine that will be more effective against a broad spectrum of variants. So, we won’t see vaccine invasion quite so much with the future vaccines, but I think those are in development. I have no idea when they might be available or how long it will take to collect the data to show that a new vaccine is in fact “better.” For someone who gets sick even though they've been vaccinated, you can have a wide range of symptoms just like old COVID and just like before vaccination, you are much less likely to go into the hospital or to die from COVID-19, but you can still spread it to people at a high rate. So it’s really important if you become sick, of course, to get the medical care that you need, but also to isolate, so that you don’t infect other people. I think that one case is currently infecting between five and eight people for the Delta variant whereas the ancestor, it was more like one case infected two or three people. So it’s really a big difference.
CCRP: What do you think the CC community and Colorado Springs community as a whole should do to prevent raising the current number of active cases as summer ends and people return to work and school?
Lostroh: Well, I think that if people can work from home, they probably should. I hope that in town, people’s employers will start to give people the option to continue working from home, and the reason I say that is that the delta variant is so contagious and the curve of increase is increasing so fast. I mean it’s as fast as it was last September and that was right before we had our giant winter wave, and that was with the ancestors that were less contagious and less dangerous than delta. So, this is really a time to go back to all of those careful non-pharmaceutical interventions that help: the masks, the humidification, the ventilation, and just keeping away from crowds. So I hope that for New Student Orientation there’s a plan and I’m sure that there is a plan for all of this. I think the college in general has done a good job planning and that this is going to be fine for the students, but the surrounding community really is experiencing an upswing in the number of cases. The college is not completely isolated from the town, so just keep that in mind and when you leave campus, put on your mask and observe all those good hygiene practices so that there’s no chance of bringing it back on campus.
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.