Colorado COVID, RSV, flu hospitalizations drop

Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped Tuesday after a bump last week, and it’s not clear if the brief increase was just statistical noise.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 182 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide as of Tuesday afternoon, down from 202 a week earlier.

It’s possible last week’s number was blip, or that it was a real, but muted result of the XBB.1.5 variant gaining ground in the state, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated XBB.1.5 accounts for about 66% of COVID-19 infections nationwide and 44% in the region including Colorado.

Public health watchers had feared that XBB.1.5 would cause a new wave of hospitalizations, because it’s better at evading the immune system than previous variants, Carlton said. Bumps in hospitalizations on the East Coast were short-lived, however.

“It does seem like the amount of severe COVID-19 in the state is continuing to decline,” she said.

It’s less clear whether overall infections are increasing or decreasing, with indicators painting a mixed picture:

  • 10% of tests came back positive over the last seven days, up from 9.1% the previous week
  • 2,700 new infections were reported in the week ending Sunday, down from 2,841 the previous week
  • Viral concentrations in wastewater were falling in 32 utilities, rising in 13 and stable in 20. Last week, they were trending down in 47 utilities.
  • Nine counties in Colorado were at medium risk, based on their cases and hospitalizations: Bent, Boulder, Broomfield, Logan, Moffat, Phillips, Routt, San Miguel and Sedgwick. Last week, all counties but one were at low risk.
  • 38 counties had “substantial” or “high” transmission, based on cases and test positivity, up from 31 last week

Other bugs were clearly in retreat. Hospitalizations for respiratory syncytial virus in the Denver area fell to their lowest levels since at least October 2021. It’s difficult to compare further back than that, because the state used to collect data from fewer hospitals.

This week, flu hospitalizations in Colorado dropped to their lowest level since early October,  and the level of flu-like illness in the state was “low” as of Jan. 28, according to the CDC.

Nationwide, the percentage of outpatient visits that were for flu-like illness hovered just above 2.5%, the threshold that defines the start and end of the flu season. It’s still possible that a different strain of the flu could start a second wave, though there’s no sign of that happening yet, Carlton said.

Overall, this winter hasn’t been as severe as some feared, but it does appear that more people died of respiratory illnesses than in a typical year, Carlton said. The CDC estimated about 11% of deaths in the last week of January were attributed to pneumonia, influenza or COVID-19, compared to a pre-pandemic average of about 7% caused by pneumonia and flu.

“In terms of respiratory viruses, we’re in a much better place, but COVID remains a serious illness for some people,” she said.

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