Virus Outbreak Colorado

Donning protetctive gear, a worker heads into a Battelle N95 mask cleaning system used to clean and disinfect respirators for the removal of the novel coronavirus in a building on the Adams County Fairgrounds in Friday, May in Henderson, Colo. The state has received two of the N95 cleaning machines to help address the shortage of personal protective equipment used by health care professionals. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

There were more outbreaks in Colorado over the past week than the week before, marking the first time the number of clusters in the state has grown in months and throwing up another warning sign that the pandemic is not over.

Since the fall peak, the number of outbreaks in Colorado has steadily dropped every week this year. That's coincided with vaccinations in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, which has caused clusters in those centers to plummet. Though still far below the November and December highs, there were 627 outbreaks either still active or just identified up until Wednesday. That's up 48 outbreaks from the week before. 

In the first week of January, there were 1,133 outbreaks. That was cut nearly in half up until March 31, but has ticked back upward. 

There are some explanations that can be gleaned from the data. Though the number of nursing home and long-term care facility outbreaks have plummeted, clusters involving restaurants have grown. K-12 outbreaks fell slightly compared to last week, but are still more numerous than in the first week of January, when there were more than 500 more outbreaks overall than there are now.

The bump in outbreaks is the latest warning sign that the state's months-long, generally successful infection control effort is in jeopardy. Various COVID metrics have steadily dropped for months but have reversed in recent days. The seven-day average of new cases is near its highest point since mid-February. The average positivity rate is at its highest point since January. Hospitalizations, which officials said were in a "stubborn plateau" for much of March, climbed again Tuesday and are at their highest point since Feb. 19.

The rising numbers come as many parts of the United States, despite vaccines becoming nearly universally available, see their case numbers rising, often in the first significant way this year.

Conversely, Colorado is preparing to step back its control of COVID measures, and vaccines are already available to the entire general public. The latter fact has led to fewer deaths and hospitalizations.

But experts have warned that the emergence of variants — a new one that was identified here Monday — and lax behavior threaten to derail the state's improved hold on the virus. State officials have said that they're primarily concerned with hospitals being overrun; though cases and the positivity rate are going up, hospitalizations are still well below their capacity and well below the fall numbers.