Why Are Colorado COVID-19 Cases On The Rise? – Community News
Covid-19

Why Are Colorado COVID-19 Cases On The Rise?

A nurse from UCHealth Greeley Hospital puts on PPE before entering a patient room in the hospital's ICU.  The ongoing spike in Colorado COVID-19 cases has been straining UCHealth ICU capacity for several months.  Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.
A UCHealth Greeley Hospital nurse dons protective gear before entering a patient room in the hospital’s ICU. The ongoing spike in Colorado COVID-19 cases clogs Colorado hospitals. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.

Colorado has the fifth highest number of coronavirus cases in seven days per capita in the United States, and state forecasters say it will get worse before it gets better. Still, the state’s vaccination rate ranks in the top one-third of the country, with about 72% of the state’s eligible population now fully vaccinated.

Even if the cause of this contradiction remains a mystery, the source of the peak infection now gripping this condition is clear. Those who are not vaccinated make up about 80% of infections. At UCHealth hospitals, that ratio is true: 78% of those hospitalized and 91% of those in ICUs are unvaccinated. Those hospitalized despite vaccination are often immunocompromised or significantly older.

Why Colorado COVID-19 Cases Are On The Rise.  This chart shows the percentage of people vaccinated and unvaccinated on Nov. 4 at UCHealth's 12 hospitals.
Unvaccinated Coloradoans are driving the current spike in COVID-19 cases. High rates of COVID-19 patients in UCHealth’s 12 hospitals are now unvaccinated. (Data as of November 4) Source: UCHealth.

The Delta variant is so contagious that even if the vaccinated don’t get as sick as they would otherwise, they can catch it and potentially spread it. That has resulted in about one in 51 people in Colorado being contagious — nearly as high as the infection rate during the early, unvaccinated 2020 days of the pandemic. say officials.

At a press conference on Nov. 2, Governor Jared Polis now painted a grim picture of the reality of Colorado:

  • Among the over-70s — a highly vaccinated cohort — two-thirds of Colorado coronavirus deaths come from perhaps as much as 7% of the population.
  • Since July, no one has been vaccinated and under the age of 40 died from COVID-19 in Colorado; more than 30 unvaccinated younger people in that cohort have died, Polis said.
  • Of those ages 40 to 60, about a dozen have been vaccinated since July; of the unvaccinated, 153 died. Polis’s frustration with the unvaccinated was hard to miss.
Source: CDPHE

“The 20% who have not yet chosen to be protected are putting themselves at risk – which you can be sure is their own business, and I don’t mind if they have a death wish,” the governor said. . “But they’re hiding our hospitals. And I think most Coloradans are tired of trying to protect people who don’t want to protect themselves.”

This chart shows the number of patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections at UCHealth's 12 hospitals from the start of the Colorado pandemic through November 9, 2021. Source: UCHealth.
This chart shows the number of patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections at UCHealth’s 12 hospitals from the start of the Colorado pandemic through November 9, 2021. Source: UCHealth.

Colorado peak COVID-19 cases impacts care

The governor’s frustration echoed that of those on the Colorado health care front lines.

“If you were to give me 10 things I could do to end this pandemic, the first nine would be to get everyone vaccinated,” said Dr. Richard Zane, chief of emergency medicine at the CU School of Medicine and UCHealth.

Why COVID-19 Vaccines Are Safe.  dr.  Richard Zane laughs outside the emergency department of the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital
dr. Richard Zane calls on people to get vaccinated. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon, for UCHealth.

The tenth, he added, would be to allow as many people as possible who are sick with COVID-19 but not yet hospitalized to receive the monoclonal antibodies that have been shown to be about 70% effective in preventing eventual hospitalization. , he added.

Zane says the spread of the coronavirus poses a challenge for hospitals and healthcare providers.

“I couldn’t be more emphatic about this: you see healthcare at the breaking point in Colorado. Never in my career has it been so busy. Never in my career have people been sicker,” he said.

It’s not just cases of COVID-19, he says. People who delayed screening tests and routine care earlier in the pandemic are facing kidney failure, heart problems, diabetes complications and advanced cancers that could have been addressed earlier.

“The sharpness is much higher,” Zane says. “Patients need more procedures, more tests, more radiation studies, more consultations, more admissions – because they are simply sicker. And the COVID patients just keep coming.”

The bustle of the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus is having a broader effect, he adds. Due to the depth and diversity of the academic medical center’s specialists, it often takes in seriously ill and injured patients who are transferred from hospitals without such resources. Bringing in those patients is becoming more difficult because the hospital is caring for so many patients with COVID-19.

Statewide limits on electoral procedures are back on the table, and “elective procedures” can be anything but. Examples abound, but University of Colorado School of Medicine and UCHealth orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rachel Frank puts one in perspective.

“Let’s say you have a 16-year-old with an ACL tear. If you delay that, you expose them not only to prolonged inactivity and possibly depression, but also possible meniscus damage and arthritis down the road,” she said.

A UCHealth Greeley Hospital ICU nurse talks through the window with another nurse caring for the COVID-19 patient inside.  Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.
A UCHealth Greeley Hospital ICU nurse talks through the window to another nurse caring for the COVID-19 patient on the other side. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.

Why is Colorado seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases now?

The simplest reason Colorado is now seeing a jump in coronavirus cases is that too few people have received at least one injection of the highly effective, extremely safe COVID-19 vaccine. The other part – why is the number of cases rising now? – is more difficult to answer.

Scientists like Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health and head of the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group, have been monitoring the pandemic and making predictions for state leaders.

“We’ve searched explanations for Colorado’s current course, but have come up with no very specific explanation,” Samet wrote in an email.

At the Nov. 2 press conference, state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said that while increased exposure from reopening restaurants, movie theaters and other social activities has contributed to the increase in cases, it’s not clear why it’s happening more in Colorado than elsewhere. But seasonality can play a role, she said.

“I think it’s more than a coincidence that this is happening at the same time as last year,” Herlihy said, pointing out that 2020 also saw a spike in hospitalizations in late November and early December — just when this year’s peak is expected. “I think there’s something about seasonality, behavior, temperature, humidity — it’s hard to really know what it could be. But it seems like there’s some seasonal element going on here.”

Zane suspects that the state’s unequal vaccination rates in its 64 counties contributed to this. Colorado counties vaccination rates among eligible residents who have received at least one shot range from 100% in San Juan County to 37% in Washington County. While densely populated counties are generally more vaccinated, there is a range there too: 86% in Denver County, 82% in Jefferson County, 75% in Larimer County, 71% in El Paso County, and 65% in Pueblo County. It may not be a coincidence that the combination of a sizable population and low vaccination coverage contribute to Pueblo County having the worst coronavirus spike in the state. Herlihy estimated the infection rate among the unvaccinated to be between eight and twenty times that of the vaccinated.

“They’re really giant holes of unvaccinated people, and it gives the virus a chance to spread like wildfire,” Zane said.

For Zane and colleagues, the discrepancy between the extraordinary stresses that hospitals undergo and the relative normality outside them is striking.

“People act like this isn’t happening,” he said.