DENVER — According to the state’s Department of Health, the COVID-19 situation in Colorado is deteriorating by the day.
A report released on Nov. 3 by the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Team estimated the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 on Nov. 26 at 1,393 and at 1,400 in early December.
Less than a week later, their experts predict the situation could be even more serious, with the state surpassing those estimates just days after the report was released.
“Since we released the report, the numbers of COVID hospitals have continued to rise, so we think demand could rise even higher than what we said last week,” said Elizabeth Carlton, an associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and member of that model team. “We are now concerned that we could exceed the December 2020 peak in some scenarios.”
Colorado currently has about 1,500 patients hospitalized due to the coronavirus. At its peak in December 2020, the state treated about 1,800 patients at a time. Some experts worry that the number could be closer to 2,000 in January. The state is also losing about 25 people a day to the virus.
Carlton says this is still largely a pandemic of unvaccinated people. About 80% of people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated and are dying at an increased rate.
The state currently has a 9.5% positivity rate with some counties such as Yuma, Mineral and Custer above 20% positivity for their two week average.
Hospitals are also being pushed to the limit by more patients and staff shortages. They have less peak capacity and less leeway to meet the current increasing demand for healthcare.
“Right now, our hospitals are so stretched that we haven’t been stretched by the whole pandemic. We have over 90% capacity,” said Cara Welch of the Colorado Hospital Association.
However, COVID-19 is not the only thing putting pressure on hospitals. Welch says the facilities also report that the number of patients has increased for other reasons, as people have returned to their normal lives.
Last year’s temporary hiatus for elective surgeries may also be a factor.
“We believe that some of what we’re seeing in our hospitals now is people who missed the right time window for those kinds of procedures, and now they’re coming in much sicker,” Welch said.
Carlton, meanwhile, says part of the reason she sees more and more cases is the spread of vaccination rates across different areas of the state. Some areas with lower vaccine rates have been hit harder by the latest wave of the pandemic than others.
Weather may also play a role, as a similar spike in cases occurred around this time last year, but experts aren’t sure why there’s a connection.
The big question for hospitals right now is how bad this year’s flu season will be and what effect it will have on their facilities.
In an effort to help, Colorado is reactivating crisis standards of care for healthcare system personnel to help manage the influx of patients requiring care for COVID-19 or another illness.
Counties like Larimer and Boulder have returned to things like mask mandates to slow the spread of the virus. However, many others do not.
The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment says that while it doesn’t have a mask requirement, it supports the rules set by major indoor event centers like Ball Arena. The city’s two-week positivity rate is above 6%.
“Vaccinations are our way out, which is why Denver has mandated vaccines for city employees and people who work in high-risk environments. Denver will join all measures taken by the state, and believes regional or state-wide mitigation efforts and vaccine requirements should be the best,” said a statement.
Government Jared Polis, meanwhile, has shown reluctance to go back to all statewide mandates, saying on Twitter that the state’s vaccine status is high and the unvaccinated are the ones most affected. Victoria Graham, a spokesman for the governor, released the following statement on Wednesday evening:
“The delta variant is shockingly efficient at detecting, infecting, hospitalizing and even killing the unvaccinated. Our largest health care system UCHealth reported that 91% of COVID patients in ICU are unvaccinated. should be vaccinated and should get their booster now without delay to prevent further spread of this dangerous and deadly virus.”
For now, experts are urging people to get vaccinated, get booster shots when eligible, and start wearing masks.
“We would urge you to wear your masks again, because while that will help with the spread of COVID, it would also help prevent the spread of other respiratory viruses such as the flu,” Welch said.