‘A new normal’: Social distancing measures working, but to keep COVID at bay, they’ll have to last

man having a video call on his phone
Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Boulder County’s distancing measures are working, health officials said this week, creating the desired flattening of the curve that should prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. It was a more definitive read of last week’s cautious optimism that one peak, at least, may have already passed.

“We’re starting to see a little bit of a plateau,” said Jeff Zayach, executive director of Boulder County Public Health. “Clearly we’ve gone through a peak process here.”

But with that good news came a dose of sobering reality: In order to prevent future surges, things once billed as temporary preventions — wearing masks, limiting social interactions, staying at home whenever possible — are looking more like a way of life.

“We are probably in a new normal for quite a while,” Zayach said. “Those things have to continue. We’re going to have to stay focused, from my perspective, until we have a vaccine in place.”

Reports on the likely timing of a coronavirus vaccine vary wildly. The process typically takes years, but with the whole world working on a solution, testing and trials have been fast-tracked. There are more than 115 separate efforts across the globe to develop a vaccine; five have reached the clinical trial phase.

It could be early 2021 before a vaccine is ready for emergency use, according to a roundup of current, ongoing efforts by the journal Nature, though plenty of experts and private companies have offered their own opinions that something could be ready sooner. Dr. Peter Hotel, director of vaccine development at Baylor College of Medicine, told the New York Times that it will likely take two to three years for COVID to work its way through the global population to a degree that daily life could return to anything resembling pre-pandemic normalcy.

Zayach didn’t put a specific timeline on how long social distancing might last locally. For now, though, he said everyone should sit tight.

“Please stay home as much as you can,” he said. “That’s going to make the biggest difference.”

A slowdown in transmission is evident in the data. Boulder County has begun producing graphs tracking the percentage of new cases over a three-day basis that shows significant declines.

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Boulder County Public Health

As of Saturday at 4 p.m., 248 people in the county had tested positive for coronavirus. Boulder had by far the most infections, but Zayach warned not to put too much stock into  the numbers.

“Because we have limited testing, we shouldn’t take these case counts as exactly what’s happening in our community,” he said. “We need to assume there are more people in the community positive than what we’re seeing here.”

That is perhaps why the county hasn’t released more granular data. Denver Health, for instance, has neighborhood-by-neighborhood breakdowns; there are also far more cases in Denver than Boulder.

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Boulder County Public Health

Positive cases and hospitalizations are rising from transmission that occurred days or weeks ago, Zayach said. Boulder Community Health is still staying on top of the crisis, CEO Dr. Robert Vissers said, but “we’re not anywhere near out of the woods.”

A new complication has arisen, perhaps driven by the fear of contagion. “We are starting to be concerned” that those in need of medical care are avoiding coming to the hospital, Vissers said— even those suffering serious and potentially life-threatening symptoms of chest pains or stroke.

“We still have significant capacity” for non-COVID care, he said. Patients can be routed through the hospital in such a way as to “avoid exposure” to coronavirus patients or those providing care to them.

“I feel safer walking through my hospital than I do the grocery store,” Vissers said. “At least before we asked everyone to start wearing masks.”

Read a play-by-play of Tuesday’s COVID briefing to council here.

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Please talk to someone who is considering keeping everything closed for a year. The economy is bad now after a month. Ask someone at the County what a year will do.

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