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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

Reports Of Active COVID-19 Outbreaks Rise Three-Fold In Colorado Schools

Billy Hathorn
CC BY-SA 3.0
Douglas County High School has 34 COVID-19 cases among staff and students. The outbreak there was first reported to state officials on Sept. 1.

Reports of active coronavirus outbreaks at Colorado K-12 schools have accelerated in September compared to cases through all of August. Raw public health data released by the state this week and analyzed by KUNC shows outbreaks at 80 schools. There have been 886 cases among students and staff at schools since August, with almost 350 of those cases coming in the first week of September.

Students make up the majority of those hit by the virus known for causing fever, aches, difficulty breathing and possibly death.

“Our highest rate of transmission — and it's been that way for the last couple of weeks — is really occurring among our 6- to 11-year-old population,” state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said in a press conference this week. “So those are our school kids that are really too young to be vaccinated and then followed by that is the 12- to 17-year-old population.”

Studies conducted early during the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 found that children have a lower incidence rate than adults. Subsequent studies showed otherwise. Rates of infection for children and adolescents are comparable to adults and potentially higher in settings like schools, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though health officials say that masks in schools can protect children from infections, Gov. Jared Polis has declined to mandate masks unless outbreaks lead to school closures or cause a shortage of hospital beds.

That has left counties and school districts along the Front Range adopting their own policies. The Tri-County Health Department, for example, mandated masks for schools in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. That led to an uproar in some places, including a protest by students in Douglas County, where this week the county’s commissioners announced it would part ways with the regional health agency to create its own.

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon indicated at the time of the decision, which is set to be formalized next week, that the creation of a new agency means that the Tri-County Health Department’s mask order is not enforceable locally — a sentiment unanimously supported by the county’s two other commissioners.

Among active COVID-19 outbreaks at schools across the state, Douglas County has the highest number of cases. At 18 schools in Douglas County, there are 238 cases among staff and students.

Schools in El Paso County have the second-highest number of cases — 188 — among active outbreaks.

In all, schools in 17 of Colorado’s 64 counties have reported active outbreaks. In Northern Colorado, six schools in Larimer County are contending with 71 cases and two schools in Weld County have 16 cases. None have been reported by Boulder County.

Herlihy said state officials are watching cases among children closely, including hospitalizations. The state hit a milestone this week, tracking 891 hospitalizations as of Wednesday — the highest number seen since January, a time when vaccines were available only to medical workers, first responders and the state’s frailest residents, including nursing home patients.

While the state is watching COVID-19 numbers closely, Herlihy said there is already enough data to indicate that children, particularly those who are not vaccinated, should take precautions, and not only at schools.

“I've said previously that with how widespread transmission is in the state right now, it is a pretty risky time to bring unvaccinated children to go to large gatherings,” she said. “We need to keep in mind that all of those things that we were doing last year continue to be important now for our kids, actually probably more important than ever to protect our kids from COVID-19 transmission.”

As investigative reporter for KUNC, I take tips from our audience and, well, investigate them. I strive to go beyond the obvious, to reveal new facts, to go in-depth and to bring new perspectives and personalities to light.