Colorado school districts are planning for the start of the school year as new COVID-19 cases increase around the state. On Tuesday, the head of Colorado’s public health department said the state’s “early warning system has begun to blink red.”
How opening school to roughly 860,000 students around the state might affect the trajectory of the coronavirus in Colorado remains an open question. The model developed by the Colorado School of Public Health, which the state relies on, doesn’t include schools in its assumptions. Other countries that opened schools successfully did not do so when cases were rising.
“You can think of social distancing as a percent reduction in people’s normal contact rates,” said Elizabeth Carlton, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health at University of Colorado Anschutz and a member of the modeling team, in an email.
“We expect the contact rate to increase for certain populations if schools open, but have not modeled that directly,” she wrote. “In general, transmission increases as contact rates increase (or social distancing decreases) but there are open questions about how well kids transmit infections.”
Current projections show intensive care units in Colorado hospitals reaching capacity by some time in September. In an effort to change that trajectory, Gov. Jared Polis has closed bars and issued a statewide mask mandate. It will take weeks to see the effect of these changes, just as it took weeks for the impact of reopening and more social contact to show up first as an increase in cases and now as an increase in hospitalizations.
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