Colorado is one COVID-19 outbreak short of the point where many K-12 schools moved to remote learning in December, with more students infected than at the previous peak.
As of Wednesday, the state reported 210 active outbreaks in schools, the highest number since Dec. 2, when there were 211. Outbreaks had fallen from December through mid-January, fluctuated through March, then began growing in earnest, increasing by 80 in April.
Outbreaks also continued to grow in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and child care centers, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The state defines an outbreak as two or more cases connected to the same location or event. An outbreak is considered over when four weeks have passed with no new cases.
In December, schools returned to remote learning as cases and hospitalizations surged statewide, but on Wednesday, 12 superintendents asked the state health department to end the requirement that students potentially exposed to the virus go home to quarantine.
K-12 schools saw the largest increase in outbreaks over the week, adding 43, followed by nursing homes and child care facilities, which each had 11 additional outbreaks, and assisted living facilities, which added seven. Though some settings had fewer outbreaks, the total rose to its highest level since Feb. 17.
Fewer teachers and other school staff members have been infected in current outbreaks than were at the peak in December, perhaps reflecting that they were one of the earlier groups to become eligible for the vaccine. As of Wednesday, 246 staff members had been infected in the currently active outbreaks, compared to 383 in the outbreaks that were active on Dec. 2.
The reverse was true for students, though. As of Dec. 2, 861 kids were infected in active school-based outbreaks. As of Wednesday, nearly three times as many were: 2,347. It’s possible some of the increase could reflect increased testing, but state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy noted Tuesday that kids ages 11 to 18 accounted for an increasing share of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Most children and teens have relatively mild COVID-19 symptoms, though a British study found 10% to 15% still had at least one symptom five weeks after infection.
Outbreaks in long-term care facilities were at their highest level since Feb. 24, but less than a third of what they were at their worst point, in early January. Most also are smaller than they were during the fall wave. As of Wednesday, 112 residents and 242 staff members had been infected in the current outbreaks, and three residents had died.
Nursing home residents and staff were second in line for the vaccine, behind hospital workers. Not all accepted it, though, and it’s possible some of those who got infected moved in or took jobs after the late-winter vaccination clinics.
So far, there’s no indication the state’s fourth wave of COVID-19 is fading.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 703 people were hospitalized for confirmed or suspected COVID-19, which was the highest number since Jan. 27. The number of new cases was lower on Tuesday than in previous days, but the number of tests also was down. The percentage of tests coming back positive remained high, suggesting more testing would have uncovered more cases.