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What impact will Thanksgiving travel have on COVID-19 cases?

Southwest Coloradoans traveled less, health officials say

Southwest Colorado residents traveled less during Thanksgiving weekend than years prior, but it’s uncertain what impact holiday celebrations will have on a possible rise in COVID-19 cases.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, health officials asked the public to refrain from traveling for Thanksgiving or hosting celebrations that would bring people from multiple households under one roof.

Mobility data based on cellphone and traffic data tracked by the state of Colorado showed there was about a 30% reduction in holiday travel compared with last year.

San Juan Basin Public Health executive director Liane Jollon said the rate ranged significantly from community to community. Some places saw up to a 70% reduction in travel, with other areas experiencing no change.

Southwest Colorado, Jollon said, was about on pace with the statewide average at 30%.

“A lot of people came up with creative ways to make the holidays as normal as they could,” she said. “We appreciate that. That’s how we keep community spread under control, as best we can.”

The bad news, Jollon said, is that Thanksgiving saw a 40% increase in traveling and mixing households than any other day in November this year, a time when stricter public health orders were put in place as COVID-19 surged in the county.

“We saw people’s interactions and movements reduce in November, steadily all month, until Thanksgiving,” she said.

People gathering for the Thanksgiving holiday, and possibly spreading the virus, has yet to show up in the numbers.

Typically, people start to test positive about a week after a holiday, as evidenced after Fourth of July and Halloween this year. But cases don’t typically surge until three to four weeks afterward, as spread continues in a community.

Statewide, the impacts of some communities moving into the stricter Level Orange and Level Red public health orders may have been counterbalanced by the Thanksgiving holiday, said Brian Devine with SJBPH.

“It’s all very uncertain right now, but it’s starting to come into the data,” he said.

La Plata County was reporting 1,329 positive cases on Thanksgiving. As of Wednesday, there were 1,821 positive cases – an increase of 492 cases.

Devine said La Plata County’s growth rate of new positive cases is about the same as before Thanksgiving, though Archuleta County has shown an increase and continues to climb.

All this comes at a time when health officials are asking residents to hold true to best practices aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 as two of the year’s major holidays, Christmas and New Year’s, loom.

“We’ve come a really, really long way, and there is good news on the horizon,” said Jollon, referring to the vaccine. “But we still have to be extraordinarily cautious this Christmas and New Year. That’s just the reality of the timeline.”


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