Colorado data shows social distancing, stay-at-home order could save tens of thousands of lives

Posted at 4:42 PM, Mar 27, 2020

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Coronavirus deaths would have topped 33,000 in Colorado by June without any social distancing and the state would be in dire need for more than 10,000 more intensive care beds, according to data released by Gov. Jared Polis at a news conference Friday, as he explained the numbers behind why he issued a statewide stay-at-home order this week.

The projected number of fatalities would drop to 11,500 if 60% of Coloradans practice proper social distancing, according to the state data , which was modeled on the virus having an infectiousness rate of R0-4.

The R0 value, pronounced R-naught, is a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. State data shows the coronavirus being somewhere between R0-3 and R0-4, meaning an infected person will infect 3-4 other people, on average.

Polis said the stay-at-home order issued Wednesday, on top of other measures already in place, would ideally get Colorado to social distancing levels of around 70%-80%.

"We are seeing increased social distancing," Polis said, "but we need to see more."

Colorado's number of coronavirus cases rose to 1,734 on Friday, though Polis has emphasized there are likely thousands of more unidentified cases in the state. The number of deaths rose to 31, up from 24 through Thursday. About 11,000 people have been tested for the virus in Colorado.

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A higher percentage of social distancing would not only have a direct impact on the number of fatalities and ICU beds needed — it would give the state more time to respond to the surge of coronavirus patients expected to increase at hospitals.

Colorado currently has 1,849 ICU beds and about half would be needed for non-coronavirus patients, Polis said.

Under the modeling of no social distancing and an infection rate of R0-4, the peak demand for ICU beds would be 13,800 at the end of April. At 40% social distancing, the peak would be 9,400 beds in May. At 50% social distancing, the peak would be 7,300 beds in late May. And at 60% social distancing, the peak would be 4,500 beds in June.

Under the modeling of no social distancing and an infection rate of R0-3, the peak demand for ICU beds would be 11,600 in June. About 40% social distancing would drop the peak demand to 5,600 beds in July; 50% would lead to a peak of 3,300 beds in September; and 60% would lead to a demand of 900 beds in December.

Polis said the state is aiming to add 1,000 more ICU beds by May and 5,000 more beds by the summer. But aggressive social distancing is still needed, and Polis said the data projections warranted the stay-at-home order.

"If we get this right, some might say we did too much too soon," Polis said. "I would rather receive that complaint than have a full-scale public health disaster with tens of thousands of Coloradans paying the price."

Polis urged Coloradans to adhere to the stay-at-home order, asking residents to avoid leaving their communities, especially to trails and mountain areas.

"This is not a vacation," Polis said. "Our mountains and canyons have been here hundreds of thousands of years, and they're going to be here hundreds of thousands of years. So, wait until this blows over to enjoy them."

The executive order means Coloradans should not be leaving their homes except for critical activities including:

  • Obtaining food and other household necessities including medicine
  • Going to and from work if you are a critical employee
  • Seeking medical care
  • Caring for dependents or pets
  • Caring for a vulnerable person in another location
  • Cannabis and liquor stores will remain open
  • Or participating in outdoor recreation at a legally-mandated safe distance of six feet or more from other parties