Graphic from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment

The status of each county’s two-week average COVID-19 positivity rate is shown in this graphic. Lake County is currently at a 12.9% positivity rate.

As Colorado sees statewide increases in COVID-19 infections, Lake County has documented a surge in its positivity rate that local officials attribute to private social gatherings.

As of Nov. 16, Lake County’s two-week positivity rate was at 12.9%, up from 10.6% earlier in the month.

The increased positivity rate reflects not only a rise in the number of tests conducted in Lake County, but also an increase in the number of those yielding positive results, Lisa Zwerdlinger, Chief Medical Officer for St. Vincent Health, said during her weekly update on Nov. 11.

“We used to have three a week, now we’re having 14 a week,” Zwerdlinger said about positive cases in Lake County.

From Nov. 9 to Nov. 16, Lake County Public Health Agency (LCPHA) reported 37 new cases, 12 of which were confirmed on Saturday. Thirty-five cases were being monitored as of Monday, making for a total of 205 positive cases to date.

Locally, the surge has been largely associated with social gatherings among people from different households.

“We know that the Halloween parties were an enormous problem for us here in Lake County,” Zwerdlinger said, attributing the county’s elevated infection rate to large gatherings of people from multiple households last month.

The local trend matches the statewide increase in cases, which has been documented in most counties as “very high” by Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE). This threshold is defined by the one week cumulative incidence rate exceeding 100 new cases per 100,000 people.

The sharp increase has put a strain on Colorado’s hospitals, some of which Leadville relies on when local healthcare facilities cannot provide needed care. In the event that a patient needs to be transferred to another facility for critical care, there is a chance there will not be any availability, Zwerdlinger said.

According to Zwerdlinger, projections based on the current infection rate estimate that hospitals statewide will be at maximum capacity by mid-December. “Our bed availability in the state of Colorado is dismal,” she said.

St. Vincent Health has seen an increase in COVID-19-associated hospitalizations, but still has capacity to accept COVID-19 patients from outside of Lake County who do not need critical care.

On Monday, Lake County School District (LCSD) transitioned back to a fully remote learning model, citing staff shortages and an insufficient substitute teacher pool. For example, on Nov. 12, the district needed 17 substitute teachers, while available substitutes totaled seven at most. The district plans to resume its hybrid in-person education model on Nov. 30.

With the infection rate rising and hospital capacity declining, LCPHA adopted a new public health order Nov. 11 that includes new limitations and guidelines meant to help slow the spread of the virus.

Under the new order, public and private gatherings between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. are strongly discouraged, and businesses that act as meeting points between those times are asked to remain closed. The amended order also restricts public and private social gatherings to a maximum of six people from no more than two separate households.

Restaurants can operate at 50% of their capacity with appropriate distance between patrons, and alcohol sales must stop at 10 p.m.

These measures reflect the “Safer at Home Level 2: Concern” restriction category that Lake County has been in since September. Lake County remained in the Level 2 model as of press time on Nov. 17.

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