DENVER – Colorado’s state epidemiologist said in a news conference Thursday that she believes coronavirus is circulating at its highest levels yet in the state as hospitalizations here have also topped their April high point.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said she believes about 1 in 100 Coloradans currently have COVID-19, as cases have topped 2,000 per day over the past week and 3,000 over the past couple of days.
“We believe there is more COVID-19 circulating in Colorado right now than there has been since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Herlihy.
Gov. Jared Polis said that there are 3,369 new cases – an all-time daily high, and that there were 894 confirmed COVID-19 patients in hospital beds, also a new high since the pandemic hit the state. Colorado saw 888 people hospitalized on April 14.
“I really hope and trust that that’s a wake-up call for Coloradans,” Polis said. “Our attention might have been distracted by the election or dealing with the horrific fires. Now, it’s time to re-focus on what we know we need to do to reduce this pandemic toll here in Colorado and to get our economy going.”
The news conference from the governor and top epidemiologist included some of the starkest language from the two since the onset of the pandemic about what Colorado would face in the coming weeks if residents don’t take seriously their warnings about gatherings, mask-wearing and proper physical distancing.
Polis said that the latest numbers were “grim” and that October had been “far worse and more deadly” after a shift from how Coloradans were operating in August and September.
“We cannot afford a November that is like October,” the governor said.
Herlihy presented a video showing the sharp rise of the seven-day incidence rate in various counties and the state over the past week or two.
And she warned that modeling projections done over the past several weeks have been outpaced by the actual growth of cases and hospitalizations, which she said were unlikely to slow or plateau.
“It’s likely this trend continues into the near future,” Herlihy said.
She said that cases among older age groups have again seen a “significant’ increase over the past few weeks, which she said was concerning because older Coloradans are more likely to be hospitalized because of the virus than younger residents, who made up more of the cases in the August spike.
Herlihy said that on the current trajectory, Colorado hospitals could exceed their existing ICU bed capacity in late December and have to surge ICU beds and go to crisis of care standards not in place since the spring.
She added that the late-December projection could be sped up even more if people do not change their current habits and gather in multi-family or multi-generation Thanksgiving celebrations. Gov. Polis said that he advised people to make plans for “a non-traditional Thanksgiving with your household only.”
“We are headed in the wrong direction and our health care system will be at risk if we stay on the current trend,” Herlihy said.
Polis called Herlihy’s presentation a “grim and sobering update” and said that Coloradans would need to limit their gatherings to household members only, stay home when sick, wear masks and properly distance in order to try to plateau the spike – something he has said for months, but which seemed to take on a heightened level of concern on Thursday.
“If we don’t … the toll will be immense,” Polis said.
The governor said he was not considering a statewide stay-at-home order even as many counties, particularly in the Denver metro area, continue to be on the verge of one themselves as they have moved back to Safer at Home Level 3 on the state’s dial framework.
Polis said that responsibility for stopping current trends would be on individuals’ behavior, and that residents risked going the direction of New York and New Jersey, which saw many deaths when their hospitals were overrun at the beginning of the pandemic, if Coloradans “don’t heed this message.”
The governor said that coronavirus fatigue had set in for many Coloradans, who needed what he called “a wake-up call” to try to reverse the trends.
“Colorado, I love you,” Polis said. “This is an intervention.”