Larimer County COVID-19 cases spike at start of holiday season

Dylan Tusinski

Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, public health officials in Larimer County held a press conference Nov. 19 to discuss rising cases, vaccine rollout and the state of the pandemic in Larimer County.

“The rate at which (COVID-19) cases are rising is the highest at any point of the pandemic,” said Tom Gonzales, Larimer County’s public health director. “Our hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients at an astounding rate.”


Larimer County health officials are suggesting Thanksgiving celebrations and other holiday activities be held outside with masks or virtually. Officials are further stressing that people shouldn’t travel to family gatherings or hold mass family gatherings in order to further prevent the spread of the virus.

“If we have 10 people at a dining table, there’s a good chance at least one of them has (COVID-19),” Gonzales said.

As flu season ramps up, officials are both observing and expecting a large rise in cases. Officials pointed to Thanksgiving and the holiday season, people disregarding social distancing norms and mask mandates and people moving their gatherings indoors as reasons why cases are rising.

“As (COVID-19) fatigue has set in, more and more of us have gotten together with friends and family in smaller gatherings in our home, which is the perfect environment for (COVID-19) to spread,” said Dr. Bernard Birnbaum, the president of the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment Board of Health.

Birnbaum also said that loosened restrictions have led to loosened attitudes about the COVID-19 pandemic, which leads to more cases.

“There have been more and more gatherings at restaurants, where there’s a larger group of people hanging out and eating — which, again, any indoor environment is where you’re gonna get viral spread,” Birnbaum said. “I don’t find this rise that surprising.”

During the press conference, Gonzales noted that COVID-19 spreads 18 times easier indoors.

COVID-19 cases are rising in Larimer County, growing nearly exponentially since late September. Officials are pointing to people getting tired and lax about masks and social distancing as the cause and are reminding people that the pandemic isn’t over.

Despite that, Birnbaum and Gonzales both stressed that contracting the COVID-19 virus isn’t especially due to one’s own actions — it can be due to the actions of another person.

“You’re exposed to the behavior of the person you’re exposed to,” Birnbaum said. “Unfortunately, we all think that we’re being good.”


During the press conference, Dr. Chris Urbina, Larimer County medical director, took time to discuss the planned rollout of the recently announced Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Urbina said the vaccines would roll out in three phases, with the first phase of vaccines going to medical workers, first responders and those in assisted living. The second phase of rollout will go to people experiencing homelessness, incarcerated citizens, older adults and at-risk populations with preexisting conditions. The final phase will be for the general public.

The first phase will likely be completed by late December, the second phase by spring 2021 and the third phase by summer 2021, according to Urbina.

Margo Karsten, the Banner Health Western Region president, took time to discuss the state of the Banner Health system during the pandemic.

“What we’re seeing this time is different,” Karsten said. “It’s so important that we work on this together and keep our trends down.”

Karsten noted that Colorado’s positivity rates are rising exponentially but are not as high as in neighboring states. She said that travel across state lines may be influencing Colorado’s recent trends.

She also urged the public to maintain COVID-19 norms: wearing a mask over both the mouth and the nose, washing hands frequently and washing masks daily.

Even through the rising cases, the panel was sure to applaud the citizens of Larimer County for the actions they have taken to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“The population here has done an unbelievable job compared to the rest of the state as a whole,” Birnbaum said. “We’ve still, as a county, done better than all the other metropolitan areas of Colorado.”

He noted that, compared to the rest of the state, Larimer County has had fewer positive tests per 1,000 people and that the number of cases in the county hasn’t risen as drastically as they have elsewhere in the state.

As of Nov. 22, there are 8,306 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Larimer County. Since May, Colorado State University’s Fort Collins campus has had 1,327 COVID-19 cases.

Dylan Tusinski can be reached at or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.