Colorado sees uptick in coronavirus cases as state reopens

DENVER (AP) — Colorado is experiencing an uptick in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations as the state gradually reopens its economy, health officials said Friday.

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, said about 4% of people being tested have the coronavirus, and those who have the disease caused by the virus infect about one other person on average.

The number of positive cases peaked in mid- to late-April and declined as health officials encouraged people to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing. Now, with a stay-at-home order lifted, Herlihy said Colorado is seeing a “steady increase” in infections—albeit at a much slower rate than when the pandemic gripped the state in the spring.

“We believe that there is less social distancing happening in the state at this point,” she said. “We believe that Coloradans' behavior has changed, and that is essentially contributing to some of the increased transmission we’re seeing.”

Hospitalizations also have recently increased, and younger people are getting infected, she said.

As of July 4, the median age involving newly confirmed cases of the virus was 33, compared to the upper 40s in April.

“Younger individuals are certainly contributing to the spread of this virus, even if their symptoms are milder,” Herlihy said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

As of Thursday, Colorado had more than 35,000 reported cases and nearly 1,600 deaths caused by the virus. The number of infections is likely much higher because many people have the disease and don't realize it.

In other developments:

— Denver Mayor Michael Hancock warned Friday that if the city's coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, he will have to seriously consider rolling back its reopening.

“That would be absolutely devastating to our economy,” he said. "To close again would absolutely topple many of our businesses, and we simply want to avoid that ... particularly when we’ve worked so hard to grab this momentum and to get on the other side of this curve."

Denver's test positivity rate is currently 4.5 percent, even with a citywide mask mandate that could bring a fine of up to $999 for those who violate it.

“We all are going to be healthier and better going forward if we wear a mask today," Hancock said. "We got to do what we have to do today so we can do what we want to do tomorrow.”