State unveils new ad campaign to encourage social distancing amid COVID-19; third wave continues to grow

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DENVER | A new wave of COVID-19 continues to worry state public health leaders about hospital capacity and spread of the virus, prompting a new ad campaign encouraging people to keep up social distancing guidelines and wearing face coverings in public. 

The campaign, called “Step Up, Colorado,” comes as 417 Coloradans are currently hospitalized with complications from the virus. State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said during a news conference Tuesday without any sudden change, hospitals would exceed capacity by mid-November.

About one in four hospital beds are currently being used for COVID-19 patients, according to Gov. Jared Polis. There’s about 1,800 hospital beds in Colorado, and many of those need to be available for people with other medical needs.

During the peak of the first wave, about 900 people were hospitalized with the virus in Colorado. Herlihy said at that time public health experts estimated about 10% of COVID-19 cases were being identified. With more testing capacity now it’s closer to 50%. 

The R-value, which identifies how much the virus is spreading, is steadily trending upward. In September, the value averaged 1.21, which meant one person infected with the virus was infecting 1.21 more people. Now that number is at 1.5, so each infected person infects 1.5 people.

The goal is to keep that number under 1. 

The ad campaign, paid for by federal CARES Act money, will target people who likely aren’t reading or listening to news, Polis said. 

Local jurisdictions around the metro region have seen increased spread of the virus, including in Aurora. Local governments have tightened restrictions in an attempt to slow the third wave. 

In Arapahoe County, a health order implemented on Friday mandated that all bars and restaurants stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. and personal gatherings keep to fewer than 10 people.

The order came hours after Denver health officials increased restrictions there. Tri-County also imposed restrictions on Adams County residents and businesses Friday.

In Adams County’s new rules, sports games are capped at 25 people per field and spectators are banned from high school sports gatherings and adult sports matches; indoor gatherings are limited to five people, outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people; and businesses must cut off all alcohol beverage sales at 10 p.m.

Across the state small gatherings seem, as opposed to big events, seem to be the cause of increased spread, health officials say. Limiting contact with other households is advised.

Last week Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe said in a statement the new, local restrictions are necessary to help prevent shutdowns, like the ones that occurred this spring.

“No one wants to see our communities and economy return to the widespread shutdowns we had this past spring,” she said. “If we implement these mitigation measures now, we may be able to reverse these trends. It’s up to everyone to continue to do their part to stop the spread of the virus.”