Colorado Springs mayor warns of harsher restrictions if new COVID surge isn’t reversed

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 7:00 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The mayor of Colorado Springs is warning of potential new restrictions as the county’s coronavirus numbers soar to unprecedented heights.

The volume of cases in El Paso County is the worst it’s been during the entire pandemic, including back in April when the whole state was under a lockdown. Based on two out of the three metrics the Colorado health department looks at, El Paso County has technically moved from the second-lowest position on the state’s COVID-19 dial to the second-highest. The dial determines the restrictions individual counties are placed under versus a blanket response for the entire state.

“We’re kind of on probation, if you will. There’s three things [the state] looks at. The two-week incident rate. It’s of concern if it’s above 75; ours is 180. I think that’s kind of our average per day of new cases. Two-week test positivity rate. That’s of concern if it gets over 5 [percent], we’re at 4.93 [percent]. so we’re very, very close to that. And, of course, hospitalizations," Suthers said.

A move up the dial can mean significantly increased restrictions; for instance, Safer Level 1, where El Paso County currently is, allows up to 175 people indoors and gives eligibility for outdoor and indoor variances. Under Safer Level 3, the second-highest position on the dial, the number of people allowed indoors is cut down to 50 and counties are not eligible for any variances. A full list of restrictions at each level on the dial can be found here.

“If the trend continues, we’re going to have real problem,” Suthers told 11 News.

Suthers pointed at the growing number of hospitalizations as his biggest concern.

“Let me give you some examples there. Two weeks ago, we had 15 people hospitalized in El Paso County. As of -- I think Friday of last week, we had 46. This morning it’s down to 37, so we’ve made a little three-day progress there. But folks, if you go from 15 to 45 every two weeks and that trend continues, you know, tripling by Thanksgiving we would be in a situation where our health facilities, our hospitals, are overburdened, and that’s what we want to avoid.”

Suthers said both he and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis are reluctant to impose more constraints on businesses, but if the trend isn’t reversed they may be forced to.

“I think we’re certainly looking at smaller indoor crowds would go back to 50 [if the numbers don’t go down]. I think we could see some further restaurant restrictions, things like that. I talk to the governor every Tuesday afternoon. I know he’s not anxious to move backwards at all, but he’s monitoring the numbers very carefully and I think if we don’t see some flattening of these numbers, it’s particularly hospitalization number. Then he’ll do what the health department advises in terms of what’s necessary to start flattening the curve.

“Folks, if we have to close up restaurants; if we have to, you know, impose even smaller indoor groups; things like that, it’s going to have a negative impact on the economy. We want to avoid that.”

Suthers attributed a variety of factors in causing the latest surge in cases.

“I think there’s a certain COVID fatigue that’s impacting the country. People are a little sick of this. They don’t see, you know, people immediately around them getting really sick. A lot of folks don’t, and so they think, ‘Hey, no big deal.’ But the fact of the matter is people are still dying. Yes, it tends to be older people. It tends to be people with pre-existing conditions. More and more people getting hospitalized, some of them younger. As you know, I think we lost a -- I think I saw a 21-year-old in the last couple of weeks. It can impact everybody. And some of these younger people who don’t show symptoms can be super transmitters. So for the sake of their older family members, their parents or grandparents, they really need to be more careful.”

He also pointed at the changing weather -- and said that could also be a hindrance in reversing course the way the county did over the summer after cases surged.

“We’ve done this once before; we had a spike after the Fourth of July, the number spiked, got great cooperation across the board and we were able to turn the numbers around and get them flattened again. I think the thing that’s different about this one is we’re now at the end of warm weather, and we have to be a little more careful about indoor events because the cold weather drives people indoors. ... It’s going to be a little harder, too, when people are indoors to social distance and wear masks."

The county is taking action to combat what they can.

“I think tomorrow we’re kicking off a campaign to encourage people to bundle up and stay outdoors a little longer than they might. We’re going to try and continue the outdoor dining downtown, and we’re going to have some space heaters. We’ve got some grants for things like that, and we’re encouraging people to, you know, pretend like they are skiers sitting out on the deck or something like that and to continue to do outdoor dining and bundle up," Suthers said.

But ultimately, it’s in citizens' hands whether or not we turn these numbers around.

“I think it’s clearly been established now that mask-wearing makes a difference. So I encourage everybody to wear masks, obviously inside. ... It’s a very, very critical time, and we need broad, you know, broad support by the public in taking safety measures to flatten this curve.”

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