It’s springtime in Colorado, and the season of graduations and weddings is in full swing. Signs of the pandemic are few and far between in crowds right now — not a lot of people are wearing masks, and that social distancing rule seems like a thing of the past.
But that doesn’t mean COVID-19 isn’t still a risk.
The state is experiencing another wave of COVID-19. So far, it’s not projected to be as big as previous surges from the delta and omicron variants, but the state health department is expecting hundreds more Coloradans to be hospitalized by mid-June.
So what should you do to avoid getting sick this season during this wave? A lot of these tips people have heard before, but health experts say now is the time to double down.
Get vaccinated and boosted
The good news is that the vaccines are doing what they are supposed to. This is especially welcome news as the state has started to see more breakthrough cases of COVID-19.
As of last week, 116 people were reported hospitalized for COVID, and the majority of those patients have been vaccinated. During the delta and omicron surges, COVID-19 hospitalizations were dominated by unvaccinated patients; often the percentage of unvaccinated patients was closer to 70 or 80. Still, health experts say being vaccinated is the best way of avoiding a severe case of COVID-19.
“Vaccination still is very effective and helps keep you from getting severely ill or ending up in the hospital,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, an infectious disease expert at UCHealth.
Nearly three out of four Coloradans older than 5 are now fully immunized with two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard.
Those younger than 5 are still not eligible, though approval could come soon. The Food and Drug Administration issued a timetable last month for a decision about authorizing a COVID-19 vaccine for the youngest children in the U.S.
Stay away from crowds indoors, especially if ventilation is poor
We know that the coronavirus spreads through the air.
The most common ways to spread the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are breathing close to an infected person who is exhaling aerosol droplets and particles that contain the virus; having infected droplets land in your eyes, nose or mouth from a cough or a sneeze from someone who is infected; and touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands that have the virus on them.
And when you’re indoors and around a lot of people, aside from being vaccinated, maintaining that 6 feet of distance can protect you, especially now that precautions like mask-wearing have been dropped at the state level in Colorado.
John Swartzberg, an infectious diseases doctor at Cal Berkeley recently canceled a trip to his granddaughter’s graduation because the event was planned indoors. He and his wife are both vaccinated are boosted, and though he says they are heartbroken, it wasn’t worth the risk.
“I think the chances of my winding up in hospital with COVID, even though I’m 77, (are) really small, I worry about long COVID,” he said.
The University of Colorado at Boulder is holding its graduation ceremony outside at Folsom Field. The majority of Colorado State University’s graduation ceremonies this year will be inside at the Moby Arena.
Researchers in Colorado have learned a lot about how aerosols spread. They’ve done it by studying how particles move through the air when we speak or sing or blow a how.
Based on what they’ve found, “a crowded library is probably not as high a risk for a super spreading event as a crowded bar with loud music in the background where everyone’s shouting at each other,” said John Volckens, a professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Director of the Center for Energy Development and Health at Colorado State University.
CU aerosol researcher Jose-Luis Jimenez said to think of aerosol emissions like the way cigarette smoke can hover and build up. That’s why you should be careful indoors and “keep groups small.”
Wear a well-fitting N95 or KN95 mask
As the omicron wave subsided in late winter, local health agencies dropped their masking requirements, even in indoor venues like the Ball Arena in Denver, and public transportation lifted its mask mandate in mid-April.
But the science is clear: Wearing a mask can reduce your risk of contracting the coronavirus. According to the CDC: Masking is a critical public health tool and it protects you and others from spreading COVID-19.
When worn correctly, N95 or KN95 masks offer greater protection. And it’s especially important to mask when you’re indoors and in poorly-ventilated areas. Mask wearing is also recommended for immunocompromised people and those who can’t be or aren’t vaccinated.
Take things outside
Liane Jollon heads the local public health department in Durango, where recently the wastewater surveillance is showing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 viral loads. It’s still business as usual at her office, but they are doing things slightly differently.
“We’re doing things outside, we’re doing walking meetings, fresh air meetings,” Jollon said.
Being outside takes a lot of the risks of the virus spreading through the air — a light spring breeze is the best ventilation.
And if you start experiencing symptoms …
Anyone, regardless of vaccine status, who starts having COVID-19 symptoms — like a fever, a cough or the loss of taste and smell — should get tested immediately and isolate while waiting for test results.
People who do test positive should notify people they’ve been in close contact with. That’s especially important if they are at high risk, so they can take steps to protect themselves and the people they are in contact with.
The state health department says if you test positive for COVID-19, you should seek therapeutic treatment immediately — treatments work best when they are administered as soon as possible.