Colorado’s COVID hospitalizations stay plateaued, while other signs are mixed

Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations remained on a plateau this week, and other signs paint a mixed picture of the virus’s activity in the state.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 187 people were receiving hospital care for the virus statewide. That’s not a notable difference from 195 at the same time last week and 184 a week before that.

Hospitalizations had been trending down since late July. The state’s modeling team projected they would continue falling steadily through October.

When fewer people are in the hospital, the numbers are more prone to fluctuate, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health. If a thousand people are hospitalized and a few people happen to have long stays, that doesn’t have much of an effect on the daily numbers, but it becomes noticeable when fewer than 200 people are in the hospital, she said.

The other indicators point in different directions, and it’s not clear if an uptick might be starting as people return to school and their offices, Carlton said. The percentage of tests coming back positive is decreasing, which is usually a sign COVID-19 is becoming less prevalent. But samples of wastewater in the Denver area and Pueblo found increasing amounts of the virus.

“I’m a big proponent of looking at a constellation of indicators, and right now, they are not consistent,” Carlton said. “COVID-19 continues to offer surprises, alas.”

An average of 5.5% of tests came back positive over the last week, which is down from the previous week. Cases also dropped, with 5,511 recorded in the week ending Sunday. (Holidays can throw off case counts, because people rarely get tested on a long weekend.)

As of Wednesday, wastewater samples from 12 utilities showed decreasing amounts of the virus, and 12 showed increases. An additional 25 appeared roughly stable, and 11 didn’t have enough data to draw conclusions.

The number of active COVID-19 outbreaks dropped by 12, to 268. The state only reports outbreaks in correctional facilities, certain health care settings, child care centers, homeless shelters and overnight camps.

Even if the virus does turn out to be in retreat, it’s a good idea to get an updated booster shot when you’re eligible, because people are still getting infected and some will become seriously ill, Carlton said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend waiting two months after your last shot or three months after an infection to get a booster.

“If you meet the criteria (for a booster), there’s no reason to wait,” she said.

The new shots were designed to produce an immune response to the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, which are different enough from the original version of the virus that the body has trouble recognizing them.

Nationwide, BA.5 has plateaued at about 89% of cases, while the BA.4.6 variant has gradually increased its share to 8%, according to estimates from the CDC. Preliminary research suggests BA.4.6 might be even better at evading the immune system than BA.5, potentially widening the pool of susceptible people again, but much remains unknown about it.

In Colorado, 84% of sequenced samples contained BA.5 and 2% contained BA.4.6 as of the first week of August, which was the most recent available data. Unlike the country as a whole, Colorado has seen a small increase in the prevalence of BA.4, though it’s not clear if that’s significant.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis announced a plan to temporarily reopen public vaccination sites during the booster campaign. People who haven’t had any COVID-19 vaccines can also get the original shots at the public sites.

Opening dates are tentative, so it’s a good idea to check before driving over.

The planned sites are:

  • Ball Arena, Denver, opened Wednesday. The site will be open seven days a week, with varying hours.
  • Mesa County Community Services Building, Grand Junction, opened Wednesday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays.
  • Pueblo Mall, opening Friday. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
  • Citadel Mall, Colorado Springs, opening Friday. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
  • Front Range Community College, Fort Collins, opening Friday. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays.
  • La Plata County Fairgrounds, Durango, opening Monday. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
  • Southwest Weld County Services Complex, Longmont, opening Monday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays; noon to 7 p.m. Tuesdays; and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.
  • Summit County Public Health, Frisco, opening Monday. Hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
  • Water World, Federal Heights, opening Sept. 14. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, opening Sept. 15. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Not all private providers have started giving the updated vaccines, though Denver-area Walgreens and CVS stores had appointments for the new shots available.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky estimated that if the new boosters are about as well-received as the annual flu shot, about 100,000 fewer people will be hospitalized and 9,000 fewer will die over the fall and winter.

The vaccine clinic at Mesa County Community Services Building opened Wednesday, Sept. 7.

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