DENVER (AP) — Colorado is experiencing an upward trend in coronavirus cases among college-age students, mirroring similar case growth across the U.S., the state's top epidemiologist said Tuesday.

Just weeks into the fall college semester, the spike among youth — who frequently don't display symptoms — could pose a risk to more vulnerable populations such as those with preexisting conditions and the elderly, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

She said there has been a “substantial increase” in coronavirus cases among those 18-to-22, with the greatest increase among freshman and sophomore students.

The number of outbreaks among this age group is also increasing with six reported to the state over the last week based in colleges and universities. Based on the number of outbreaks under investigattion, they expect that number to double by the end of the week, Herlihy said.

Case counts have risen over the last two weeks among 10-to 19-year-olds, and in the past week among those 20-to-29, according to state data.

“Our concern when we see an increase in cases among younger populations is, of course, that those cases will spill over into our more vulnerable populations, some of our older age groups, where we could potentially see much higher rates of hospitalizations,” Herlihy told a media briefing.

If social distancing behaviors continue to trend downward, Colorado could see “some additional stress on our healthcare system” Herlihy said.

The University of Colorado-Boulder is one hot spot, and Chancellor Phil DiStefano urged students, faculty and staff in a Monday letter to wear face masks, social distance and avoid crowds of more 10 people to stem the surge.

University officials reported 13 positive tests the first week of school, 90 the second week and 205 the third week, DiStefano said. Nearly 30% of confirmed cases are on-campus residents and the remainder live off campus, he said.

The university's contact tracing found that most positive cases were associated with large gatherings among sororities, fraternities and other multi-student residences, along with a failure to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing. Boulder County officials quarantined residents at four sorority houses, DiStefano said.

Earlier this month, Colorado College in Colorado Springs said it was moving to online classes for the rest of the fall semester after hundreds of students went into quarantine because at least 10 students had tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to Gov. Jared Polis, as of Tuesday, Colorado's total number of positive cases was 62,099. The state has lost 1,905 people directly to COVID-19.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.


Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.