Experts warn Colorado’s COVID-19 situation is worsening by the day, could surpass last year's peak

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Posted at 7:53 AM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 09:53:30-05

DENVER — Colorado’s COVID-19 situation is worsening by the day, according to the state’s department of public health.

A report released on Nov. 3 from the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Team estimated hospitalizations for COVID-19 could reach 1,393 by Nov. 26 and increase to 1,400 by early December.

Less than a week later, their experts are predicting the situation could be even more serious than that, with the state already surpassing those estimates just days after the report was released.

“Since we released the report, COVID hospital numbers have continued to rise such that we think the 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 a member of that model team. “We’re now worried in some scenarios we could exceed the peak we saw in December 2020.”

Colorado currently has roughly 1,500 patients in the hospital due to the coronavirus. At its peak in December 2020, the state was treating roughly 1,800 patients at one time. Some experts worry that number could be closer to 2,000 by January. The state is also losing roughly 25 people a day to the virus.

Carlton says this is still largely a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Around 80% of the people who are in the hospital right now for COVID-19 have not been vaccinated and they are dying at higher rates.

The state is currently at 9.5% positivity rate, with some counties like Yuma, Mineral and Custer above 20% positivity for their two-week average.

Hospitals are also being stretched to their limits dealing with more patients as well as staffing shortages. They have less surge capacity and less room to finagle with the current increase in demand on the health care system.

“Right now, our hospitals are stretched to a point that to we haven’t been stretched through the entire pandemic. We are above 90% capacity,” said Cara Welch from the Colorado Hospital Association.

However, COVID-19 is not the only thing putting a strain on hospitals. Welch says the facilities are also reporting seeing an increase in patients for other reasons because people have returned to their normal lives.

Last year’s temporary pause to elective surgeries could also be a factor.

“We believe some of what we’re seeing in our hospitals now are people who may have missed the appropriate window of time for that type of procedure, and now they’re coming in much sicker,” Welch said.

Carlton, meanwhile, says part of the reason she is seeing for increasing cases is the spread in vaccination rates among different areas in the state. Some areas with lower vaccine rates are being hit by the latest wave of the pandemic more severely than others.

Weather might also play a role since a similar spike in cases happened around this time last year, but experts aren’t quite sure why there is a connection.

The big question for hospitals right now is how bad this year’s flu season will be and the effect it will have on their facilities.

In an effort to help, Colorado is reactivating crisis standards of care for staffing of health care systems to help manage the influx of patients who need care for COVID-19 or any other illness.

Counties like Larimer and Boulder have returned to things like mask mandates in order to help slow the spread of the virus. Many others, though, have not.

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment says while it does not have a mask requirement, it supports the rules large indoor event centers like Ball Arena have instituted. The city’s two-week positivity rate is above 6%.

“Vaccines are our way out, which is why Denver has mandated vaccines for city employees and people working in high-risk settings. Denver will align with any measures put in place by the State, and believes that regional or statewide mitigation efforts and vaccine requirements are best,” a statement read.

Gov. Jared Polis, meanwhile, has shown reluctance in moving back to any statewide mandates, saying on Twitter that the state’s vaccine status is high, and it’s mainly the unvaccinated who are being affected. Victoria Graham, a spokesperson for the governor, released the following statement Wednesday evening:

"The delta variant is shockingly efficient at seeking out the unvaccinated, infecting them, hospitalizing them, and even killing them. Our largest health care system UCHealth reported that 91% of the COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated. Everyone should get 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 they are eligible and resume wearing masks.

“We would urge you to go back to wearing your masks because, again, that does help with the spread of COVID but it would also help prevent the spread of other respiratory viruses like the flu,” Welch said.