Arapahoe County health, school officials say increasing COVID-19 numbers worrisome

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Jessica Merritt administers a COVID-19 swab test recently at the STRIDE Community Health Center in the Del Mar neighborhood.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Amid rising COVID-19 cases, school and public health officials at a virtual town hall meeting Thursday stressed the importance of keeping case rates low.

The meeting, sponsored by Arapahoe County, focused on COVID-19 and schools. The event brought together public health experts with six local school superintendents to answer questions from the public.

Tri-County Health Department director Dr. John Douglas said the region is seeing a potential fall surge in COVID-19 cases, and that cases have risen 17% in the last two weeks.

The county’s positivity test rate is 7.7% — above the target rate of 5% or less — and its incidence rate of 185 is well above the target or 75, Douglas said. There is good news, however, Douglas said. Death rates have not gone up and there has only been a slight uptick in hospitalizations.

Through contact tracing, the department has found that the most common cause of transmission was through social gatherings, he said.

“We’ve all got to work together, and acknowledge that we’re fatigued and sick of this whole COVID thing, but we’ve got to hang in there a while longer,” Douglas said.

Aurora Public Schools superintendent Rico Munn said that the district is very happy to be in the process of bringing students back into buildings and is concerned about rising case numbers in Adams and Arapahoe County.

“If we as a community are not able to bring those numbers down, we may have to shift back to remote learning,” Munn said.

Cherry Creek superintendent Scott Siegfried echoed that concern, and said the district is trying to do everything possible to make sure that students can keep coming to school.

“We have to balance what’s happening in our community with what’s happening in our schools,” he said.

Multiple people asked Siegfried when middle and high schoolers would be able to go back to in-person school full time. Because older students are required to be six feet apart in classrooms, only half the student body is in person at a time.

Siegfried said that despite very low rates of transmission between students — so far only six students in the district have tested positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine out of 1,200 — the guidelines will likely not be relaxed until there is a vaccine.

Across the district, 16 students and six staff members are currently in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

One person asked Munn why APS’ decision matrix for school safety is only updated every two weeks. Munn said that the district wanted to provide a sense of stability in its communications to the public.

“We look at the data every day, all day, and if we need to make a quicker decision I assure you we will,” he said.

Both districts are currently monitoring COVID-19 data to determine if they need to return to remote learning. Aurora’s decision matrix is below the recommended cutoff point for hybrid learning, and the district will announce whether it needs to go remote again by Oct. 22.

Cherry Creek is currently at a level 6 in its 12-point decision model, which means that it needs to consult with Tri-County about what to do and potentially return to online learning if the trend continues.

Douglas said that he is optimistic that there will be a viable vaccine ready sometime in the near future. In the meantime, it’s important that people continue to social distance, wash their hands and wear masks.

“Let’s all do what we can to keep our rates as low as possible,” he said.