Colorado surpasses 1 million COVID-19 cases
Colorado surpassed 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday, but the more pressing concern was that the number of people hospitalized with the virus reached levels last seen in early December, when the wave fueled by the delta variant was just starting to fade.
As of Monday afternoon, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 1,402 people were hospitalized statewide with confirmed COVID-19, which was a slight decrease from 1,416 on Saturday. There’s no particular reason to believe the decrease will be sustained, however, since cases and new admissions to hospitals are still spiking.
New COVID-19 infections increased by more than 30% last week, with 77,380 people testing positive in the week ending Sunday — bringing the total since March 2020 to more than 1 million. An average of 28.5% of tests came back positive during that week, far above the 5% goal, and a figure that suggests the true number of infections is higher.
Deaths due to COVID-19 appear to still be declining in Colorado from their most recent peak during fall’s delta wave, though it’s difficult to be sure due to delays in reporting fatalities to the state. Nearly 11,000 people have died from the virus in the state since the pandemic started.
About 93% of Colorado’s general hospital beds were in use as of Monday, which is in line with recent weeks. The percentage of intensive-care beds in use dropped slightly, to about 91% — though that’s still well above pre-pandemic levels. About 80% of ICU beds any given day were full before COVID-19 hit.
Data from South Africa and the United Kingdom suggests that people hospitalized with the omicron variant tend to have shorter stays than those hospitalized with delta, allowing beds to turn over more quickly and somewhat reducing the strain on capacity, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.
“The one encouraging bit of news is that we’re not seeing an exponential increase in hospital demand,” she said. Exponential growth is when numbers snowball, increasing by higher and higher rates.
The highest point for hospitalizations in the pandemic was early December 2020, when 1,847 people were receiving care statewide for the virus. The most recent wave, which peaked in late November, topped out at 1,565 COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The risk from omicron is greatest to people who aren’t vaccinated, older people and those with compromised immune systems, Carlton said. But anyone who doesn’t want to be infected and potentially pass on the virus should take precautions like wearing masks in public and avoiding face-to-face interactions where they can, she said.
“This is the time, for the next few weeks, to hunker down,” she said.
Dr. Eric Poeschla, chief of infectious disease at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, tweeted Sunday that the percentage of their COVID-19 patients in intensive-care units or on ventilators has dropped, but he’s concerned the number of seriously ill patients could increase again, simply because of the “tsunami” of people who have been infected. It’s a particularly difficult moment for hospitals, because so many employees are out sick with the virus, he said.
On Friday, the state reactivated crisis standards of care for emergency medical services, allowing understaffed ambulance providers to only transport the most seriously ill or injured patients to hospitals, and to opt not to attempt resuscitation on patients with low odds of survival. Colorado has been under crisis standards to allow hospitals to stretch their limited staff since November.
How many people were hospitalized “with” COVID-19 versus “for” the virus is difficult to determine, Poeschla said. For some people, the virus could be the factor that tips them over into needing a hospital bed, he said.
Areas hit by omicron before Colorado offer a mixed picture of what might lie ahead. In New York City, more patients are hospitalized now than were during the peak of last winter’s wave in January 2021, and ICU admissions and deaths are also rising, according to data compiled by The New York Times. It’s not clear if that reflects a pattern that other areas should expect as the omicron surge continues, or if it’s a “residual” effect from the delta variant, which was causing a jump in cases in New York before omicron displaced it, Carlton said.
“We haven’t seen evidence of that yet in Colorado, but if that were to happen, that would be really challenging,” she said.
The current situation may be short-lived, since numbers from South Africa and the United Kingdom suggest omicron may peak after about a month, Carlton said. There’s no guarantee Colorado will follow the same trajectory, though.
“I certainly hope we’re close,” to the peak, she said. “I think February is going to be better than January.”
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