Health officials ‘cautiously optimistic’ as Colorado appears to be turning the corner on omicron wave

Positivity rate, cases and hospitalizations still at very high levels
dr rachel herlihy_cdphe
Posted at 4:17 PM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 18:17:26-05

DENVER – Colorado health officials said Thursday they’re “cautiously optimistic” the state is starting to turn the corner from the omicron wave after a rapid surge in cases last month.

State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said even though trends over the past week have shown a decrease for much of the state, those metrics remain at very high levels not seen in previous waves of the pandemic.

Currently, the state’s positivity rate is above 26% as of Thursday – more than five times of what is recommended by federal, state and local health officials to curb transmission of the virus. This metric is one the state department of public health says is the “best leading indicator” to identify changes in the trajectory of the pandemic across Colorado.

While Colorado is following in the same downward trend as the rest of the country, Herlihy did caution that “we do continue to see high case rates right now” and that the prevalence of the omicron variant in the community continues to be very high.

Hospitalizations, which typically lag by about two weeks after cases, also appear to be leveling off.

Currently, 1,641 people infected with the virus are occupying beds across the state, a decrease of 33 from Wednesday, Herlihy said, adding she’d like to see that number continue to decline before feeling confident there’s a true decline in hospitalizations. About 64% of people hospitalized across the state are due to illness related to COVID-19, compared to the previous 90% baseline seen in previous waves of the pandemic, Herlihy said.

Those hospitalizations could continue to decline if more Coloradans get their booster shots, Herlihy argued, as she presented new data from the state which showed someone who has received a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is seven times less likely to end up hospitalized compared to someone who hasn’t received a booster and 46 times less likely to end up in the hospital than an unvaccinated individual.

The number of ICU beds currently available across the state as of early Thursday afternoon is 118 and there’s been “a bit of an increase in the number of available beds” over the past several days, according to COVID-19 incident commander Scott Bookman, who said there’s cautious optimism that the state is beginning to see cases and hospitalizations go down.

Though hospitalizations are at a plateau, they are still at higher levels than what the state saw during the delta wave of the virus. Still, Bookman told reporters, the state is not thinking of enacting crisis standards of care for hospitals and acute care facilities, which would allow them to ration care during the pandemic.

“We continue to work with our health care partners to decompress volume and with these really encouraging numbers, we do have optimism about what we’re seeing with our case numbers and hospitalizations,” Bookman said.

He also provided the latest figures when it comes to vaccinations: So far, more than 3.8 million Coloradans have been fully vaccinated, which amounts to about 71.08% of the eligible population.

Asked about the bumpy rollout of KN95 masks earlier this week, Bookman said the state partnered with the statewide unified command to move as fast as they can to deliver these masks to Coloradans who may need them, but ended up pivoting to other locations instead of what was originally planned. He encouraged Coloradans to continuously check the state’s website to see what additional sites have been added as distribution centers.

As of Tuesday, 82,500 KN95 masks and 226,000 surgical grade masks had been delivered to 272 locations across the state, he said. More than 225,000 KN95 and 123,000 surgical masks will be shipped Thursday and Friday.

Herlihy said the state is currently working to understand what percentage of the population could be immune at this point but cautioned against thinking the end of the pandemic was near.

“We know that it’s possible that omicron is not the last variant we’ll see.”

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