COVID-19's presence in Denver is at its lowest point in more than a year, according to county data, thanks in large part to the capital city's high vaccination rates.
"We are absolutely relieved that the case rates and hospitalizations have been decreasing," Cali Zimmerman, the emergency management coordinator for Denver's Department of Public Health and Environment, said in an email.
As of earlier this week, when some of Denver's data was last updated, the city averaged just 28.4 new cases per day over the previous week. That's the lowest seven-day average since March 24, 2020, when the pandemic was still just beginning to explode. The city averaged just 1.7 new hospitalizations over the past week, the lowest mark since March 15, 2020.
Those numbers are especially notable when compared to previous moments in the pandemic. Early June was a relative lull in the pandemic's presence here; even still, the city was still averaging 10 more cases each day than now. During the fall peak, Denver hit an average of roughly 760 new cases. At the height of April's fourth wave, roughly two months ago, the city was averaging nearly eight times as many cases each day as it is now.
With few exceptions, the rate of COVID-19 tests that have returned positive has been reliably under 2% for nearly a month. During the fall peak, it would regularly top 10%. During the fourth wave in April, it rose about 6% multiple times.
The reason for the reversal is not complicated: Denver's vaccinated 70% of its eligible population, nearly a month ahead of President Joe Biden's goal of 70% by July 4.
"It's fair to attribute to the vaccination rate," Zimmerman said. " ... Vaccinated people should continue enjoying what Denver has to offer, and as the Governor has said, those who are on the fence should get vaccinated as soon as possible (and wear a mask in the meantime!) so we don’t see another uptick."
She warned the officials "will need to continue to keep an eye on any up-ticks in the case counts and hospitalizations – as we’ve seen before, people get very excited when we see low case rates, and sometimes that leads to riskier behavior and a subsequent rise in cases."
There's been similar improvement in Denver's neighboring counties. Jefferson County, for instance, averaged 161 new COVID-19 cases each day over the weeklong period ending June 7. That's down from more than 1,200 in late April and 3,400 in mid-November. The average positivity rate there stood at 1.6% earlier this week; in November, it was 12.7%.
There's been similar improvement in the three-county area under the umbrella of the Tri-County Health Department. Adams County, one of the hardest-hit parts of the state during the fall surge, averaged roughly 49 cases over the weeklong period ending June 1. That number was well over 200 during April and had hit 567 on Nov. 20.
"We have seen significant and sustained declines in COVID-19 cases, positivity, hospitalizations, and deaths as a direct result of residents getting vaccinated in the past few months," Adam Anderson, Tri-County's health data manager, said in an email. "There is still room for improvement in overall vaccine numbers to get to a point where we will feel that our most vulnerable populations are protected, but nevertheless, the current COVID19 numbers are at a low we haven’t see in over a year."
Though Denver is ahead of most counties in Colorado, the city's experiencing the sort of slowing vaccination rates seen statewide. At the height of vaccine uptake here, during the seven-day period ending April 13, it was averaging 10,248 new vaccinations each day. That number has declined reliably nearly every day; that average, as of earlier this week, stands at just 2,411 (that number may climb, according to the city's data page).
The state announced its incentive program -- $1 million cash prizes to adults, $50,000 scholarships to teens -- over the past two weeks. But there's yet to be a corresponding spike in vaccination rates. Gov. Jared Polis and others have said they hope those numbers will jump as winners are announced and media coverage picks up. But, thus far, that has yet to happen.
The next winners will be announced later this week.