Colorado’s COVID hospitalizations up as new cases stop falling
Colorado public health officials raised concerns Friday that the number of new COVID-19 cases across the state has stopped falling, while hospitalizations of people with the virus rose over the past week following a steady decline that began in mid-September.
For the past few months, Colorado’s rate of new coronavirus infections was lower than the national rate, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, said during a news briefing. Now, though, as cases fall more rapidly nationwide than in Colorado, the state and national rates are about the same: a 7-day average of around 200 per 100,000 people.
New cases are falling across most age groups, but have risen among children aged 12 to 17 in recent days, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“About a week ago… we were seeing a clear declining trend in cases here in Colorado, but in the last week or so, that trend has reversed a little bit,” Herlihy said. “We’re not seeing a clear increase, but it does look like more of a plateau than we were hoping to be seeing at this point.”
Likewise, state health officials said, the statewide positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive — has risen in recent days and is now at 7.22%. That rate, and whether it exceeds the 5% threshold, is considered a leading indicator of the virus’s trajectory.
“It is concerning to me that we have seen a rise in this percent positivity value in the last week or so,” Herlihy said.
Scott Bookman, Colorado’s COVID-19 incident commander, said hospitalizations of people with the virus across the state are beginning to “trend back up in the wrong direction.”
The number of people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 in the state hit a recent peak of 1,021 on Sept. 14, then started falling to a low point of 907 on Oct. 2. Since then, however, that figure has been going back up, reaching 990 confirmed and suspected cases on Thursday.
The state’s intensive-care units were at about 86% capacity on Friday, said Bookman, who stressed that people who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 are eight times less likely to end up hospitalized with the virus in Colorado.
About 40% of the people in Colorado’s ICUs are COVID-19 patients, Herlihy said, noting that the people sick from the virus come in addition to all of the usual patients admitted to ICUs with illnesses and injuries. But Bookman said some of the coronavirus patients are more seriously ill.
“They’re starting to see a longer number of long-stay patients in ICUs,” he said. “They’re on ventilators and they’re really unable to get them off the ventilators and get them discharged.”
State public health officials are not sure why hospitalizations have ticked up and cases stopped falling, Herlihy said. But she noted that there has been much variability across the state and the whole U.S. during the pandemic, with some areas experiencing surges at the same time other locations see improvements.
In Colorado, she said, the Front Range is largely seeing falling case rates, but that’s not the case in the San Luis Valley, some Eastern Plains counties or the southwest part of the state, where new infections are rising.
There’s “lots of complexity in the data right now,” she said. “Lots of, really, epidemics within the epidemic occurring in Colorado right now.”
As of Thursday, Colorado had recorded 685,554 cases of COVID-19 and 7,975 people had died due to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to state data.
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