Colorado in “third wave” of COVID-19 as hospitalizations reach highest level since May, state health director says
More Colorado residents are in the hospital for COVID-19 than at any point since late May, as hospitalizations surged past the peak of the state’s summer spike.
As of Monday, 288 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Colorado. The last time more patients were receiving hospital-level care for the virus was May 31, when the spring wave of the new coronavirus was receding.
Cases also took a turn upward last week after falling slightly the previous week. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 4,979 cases in the week ending Sunday, which is about 900 cases more than the state saw during the single-biggest week of the July surge.
The state did perform more tests last week than in late July, but the increasing rate of tests coming back positive indicates that’s not the only reason the number of cases is growing. About 4.5% of tests statewide came back positive over the last three days, which was the highest rate since Aug. 5. When the positivity rate exceeds 5%, it suggests a state isn’t doing enough testing.
The trajectory of deaths is harder to track, because reports can be delayed as long as two weeks. What can be discerned isn’t terribly encouraging, though: the number of deaths per week has increased since mid-September, and two weeks ago, the total was the highest it has been since the end of the summer wave.
Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the state health department, said Colorado is in a “third wave.” The first wave in March and April was likely much larger, though it’s difficult to be certain how big it was because testing was limited, she said. The second wave followed July 4, and this one began after Labor Day.
Hunsaker Ryan said she’s concerned about increased social mixing around Halloween leading to more infections, and that if transmission continues to grow into November, people visiting their relatives may inadvertently bring the virus. It’s best to avoid gathering to celebrate now, but if you do, you should wear masks if you’re going to be around people you don’t live with, she said.
“Our goal is to knock this down before the holidays, before the winter and flu season start,” she said.
Current hospitalizations are exceeding projections from late September, said Kacey Wulff, a senior COVID-19 adviser to Gov. Jared Polis. If the current pace of infections continues, Colorado hospitals could be forced to adopt “crisis standards” because of a lack of intensive care beds in December, she said. Crisis standards allow for care that wouldn’t be up to expectations in normal times, when there aren’t enough resources to meet the usual standard.
On Monday, 77% of Colorado’s 1,977 ICU beds were in use, according to state data.
“If we continue on our current path, we are not going to be in good shape for the holidays,” she said.
It’s important to focus on precautions like social distancing now, because any close contacts are riskier than they were over the summer, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health. With the virus circulating more widely in the community, the odds are higher that any given person has it, perhaps without knowing it, she said.
“I don’t think anyone knows where we will be come Halloween, but these numbers are very concerning,” she said.
Denver County accounted for about 19% of new infections last week. Adams, Arapahoe, El Paso and Jefferson counties also showed increasing cases, while Boulder County’s numbers continued to drop.
Nine counties, including Denver and Adams, had enough new cases to be in the second-highest (orange) level on the state’s dashboard of how well the virus is being controlled. One, Logan County, was in the red, meaning it could face a stay-at-home order if less-drastic measures don’t work.
Statewide, 79,037 people in Colorado have tested positive, and 7,915 have been hospitalized. Since March, 1,998 people have died directly from the virus.
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