The COVID-19 Pandemic: Colorado’s curve continues to wander up, more Florida follies, and local action on gun controlJun 6, 2022
Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalization count reached 225 last week, triple the record low in April; test positivity remains above 10%. Personal observation, not necessarily an accurate data source, suggests that mask use is limited and social distancing forgotten. These personal impressions are confirmed by the data curated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. We cannot disentangle the contributors to the current rise in the pandemic—the arrival and rise of BA2.12.1 in Colorado and the behavioral reversion to 2019. Modeling from a few weeks ago projected a peak in the epidemic curve by the end of the month; the rise may push some towards more precautionary behaviors and to needed vaccinations and boosters, helping to slow the rise and lower the peak.
The Omicron variant was more infectious than Delta, but overall considered to be less virulent. An analysis in last week’s New York Times provides data showing that the Omicron variant pushed up mortality among older people. At Omicron’s peak, the COVID-19 death rate for those 65+ was 63% higher than during the Delta wave. In contrast, for those 12-64 years of age, the Omicron peak was 31% lower than the Delta peak. With waning immunity from vaccination, particularly among the un-boosted, the older population remains at risk for more severe COVID-19.
Governor DeSantis of Florida had remained below my ignominy threshold until last week. He resurfaced after bullying the Special Olympics into abandoning a vaccination requirement for participation. Threatened with a $27.5 million fine, the Special Olympics gave in, perhaps creating the opportunity for a superspreader event in a vulnerable population. Here is the perversity of his logic: “‘What connection that has to competing, I don’t understand,’ DeSantis said of Covid-19 vaccines. ‘We’ve never seen something wielded like this vaccine to try to marginalize disfavored people.' …'And a lot of these special Olympians have also had Covid by now,’ DeSantis said. ‘Most people have had it by now.’” And not to forget Florida’s Surgeon General Ladapo who weighed in with his personal skepticism about the efficacy of vaccines.
And you may be interested in Dr. Lapado’s views on transgender youth treatment, which support the latest barrage by DeSantis in Florida’s LGBTQ culture war. Last week, Florida’s Medicaid regulator issued a determination that transition-related medical care would not be covered by the state. The Florida Deputy Secretary for Medicaid provided a report claiming that there was no evidence that such therapies are safe and effective for treating gender dysphoria. Unfortunately, in yet another complex medical and public health issue, DeSantis has introduced politicization, making reasonable discussion impossible. This tactic, now engrained in the armamentarium of some Republican politicians, threatens public health strategies more broadly. Michael Hiltzik offers on-target comments in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. Perhaps purposefully, Florida’s antics are playing out as Pride Month begins. Originally launched to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City, Pride Month has become a global celebration. The divide is vast between those acknowledging and celebrating Pride Month and those on the “other side” in the culture wars. This divide is a threat to public health and may widen as politicians exploit it.
In Colorado under SB21-256, “a local government is permitted to enact an ordinance, regulation, or other law governing or prohibiting the sale, purchase, transfer, or possession of a firearm, ammunition, or firearm component or accessory. The ordinance, regulation, or law may not be less restrictive than state law.” Under SB21-256, a number of Boulder County municipalities (Boulder and unincorporated Boulder County, Superior, Louisville, and Lafayette) are voting on gun control measures on Tuesday, June 7. For Louisville as an example, “The six proposed ordinances address assault weapons, large capacity magazines, trigger activators, and ghost guns, and otherwise regulate the purchase and sale of firearms in Louisville in ways calculated to reduce threats to residents in public places and the risk of impulsive suicide or crime posed by easy-to-obtain firearms.” Comments on these measures can be submitted to the municipalities considering them.
These local steps can make a difference as happened decades ago when clean indoor air legislation prohibiting smoking in public places, bars, and restaurants began at the local level. Even now, local action in tobacco control continues to have a punch. Los Angeles just banned most flavored tobacco products, while the FDA moves at its glacial regulatory pace. Some positive public health news among the gloomy stories.
Enjoy summer’s start and think about wearing that N95.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health