Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations jump as new cases keep rising
Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations jumped 38% this week, and a rise in positive tests showed last week’s slowdown in confirmed new cases was a just blip.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 225 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized across the state Tuesday, up from 163 a week earlier. The average number of people admitted with the virus doubled in that time, to 108 each day in the week ending Tuesday.
That’s a significant increase compared to mid-April, when 77 people were receiving hospital care for COVID-19. It could be far worse, though: projections released in mid-May suggested 500 people could be hospitalized with the virus by the start of June.
And it’s much lower than the peak of the omicron wave in mid-January, when 1,676 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across Colorado.
The state health department recorded 13,403 new COVID-19 cases in the week ending Sunday, which was an increase of 19%, despite a holiday weekend. Normally, case counts are artificially low around holidays because testing sites are shut down and people are more inclined to overlook mild symptoms.
The previous week, growth in cases had slowed down and the rate of tests coming back positive hovered around 9%, allowing for tentative hopes that the virus trajectory might have hit a plateau.
It’s not clear how many people are infected now, but the positivity rate and the hospitalizations show it’s certainly more than the number of recorded cases, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.
“It’s fair to assume the virus is fairly widespread,” she said. “Whatever hope of a plateau there was last week is gone for now.”
The percentage of tests coming back positive resumed its fast rise after last week’s pause. As of Tuesday, it averaged 11.9% over the previous seven days. Anything over 5% raises concerns in the public health community.
It’s possible that the use of home tests is pushing up the positivity rate, since people who are less confident they’re sick may not be going to public sites, but that’s still a notably high percentage, Carlton said.
In mid-March, the rate of tests coming back positive bottomed out at about 2.5%.
“That’s the highest it’s been since early February,” she said.
Outbreaks rose for a fifth week, to 485, with new clusters in nursing homes accounting for half of the increase.
Across the country, there’s agreement that public health systems are finding a lower percentage of cases than they were at this time last year, but estimates vary widely on how large the gap between the data and reality is. Nationwide, cases appeared to drop over the weekend, but there’s a good chance that reflects fewer people getting tested because of the holiday.
Most of Colorado is still considered low risk on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s dashboard, though Boulder, Broomfield and Jackson counties have moved into the high-risk level. That means they have at least 200 cases and 10 hospitalizations for every 100,000 people, and the CDC advises people in those counties to wear well-fitting masks indoors — though there’s no requirement that they do so.
Denver is at the medium risk level, meaning it has at least 200 cases for every 100,000 people but hasn’t crossed the 10-per-100,000 hospitalization threshold. Arapahoe, Chaffee, Costilla, Douglas, Jefferson, Lake, Larimer, Lincoln, Logan, Phillips, Rio Blanco, Routt and Sedgwick counties are also at the medium risk level.
As of May 8, the state reported about 57% of cases with genetic sequencing were caused by the BA.2 variant; 39% came from BA.2.12.1; 3% were BA.4; and 0.3% were BA.5. Early data suggests BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 may be more contagious and better at evading the immune system than previous versions of omicron, though it’s not clear if any are more likely to cause severe disease.
Right now, so much is unknown about the variants that it’s not clear which might come out on top, let alone what that means for the public, Carlton said.
Since the virus is widespread, it’s a good idea to consider wearing high-quality masks in crowded indoor spaces and to check if you’re eligible for a booster shot, Carlton said. The CDC recently recommended third shots for teens and fourth shots for people over 50 and those with high-risk health conditions.
“I think it’s reasonable to assume if you contact 100 people over the course of a day or a week, one of them may be infected,” she said.
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