On Friday night, Colorado’s COVID-19 modeling team released a new report warning that if nothing changed, 1,393 people could be hospitalized with the virus by late November.
It took less than three days to exceed that projection.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Monday afternoon reported 283 people had been admitted to hospitals statewide with the virus in the previous 24 hours, pushing the total number of those hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 to 1,394.
That figure was offset by the 185 people with COVID-19 who were discharged or transferred to a lower level of care over the same period. But that’s still a one-day net increase of 98 people hospitalized with the virus, bringing Colorado to a level not seen since Dec. 17.
That surge in COVID hospital admissions could possibly reflect some delayed reports from over the weekend, but even so, it’s not a good sign, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and member of the team producing the modeling reports.
“It’s an indication that things are not getting better,” she said.
Colorado hospitals already are stretched, with about one-third saying they expect to be short of beds in intensive-care units in the coming week. The count of available intensive-care beds statewide, which is delayed by a day, ticked down from 84 on Friday to 80 on Sunday. In comparison, the state had more than 400 beds available in intensive-care units during a relatively slow point in the pandemic, in summer 2020.
“Things are tight in Colorado, in many areas of the state,” Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference Monday. “We’re experiencing a peak right now that many other areas of the country experienced a month or two ago. We’re down to less than 100 emergency beds across the state. And there are still kids hospitalized with COVID. As we speak, 25 kids.”
The state already has put into place three of the five strategies Polis recently listed as options to protect hospital capacity: calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send in health care teams; requiring hospitals to take any transferred patient they have the ability to serve; and expanding access to monoclonal antibody treatments, which reduce the odds high-risk people will be hospitalized for COVID-19.
The governor also suggested the state could order a halt to all nonemergency surgeries, or allow overwhelmed hospitals to ration care. So far, only cosmetic surgeries are on hold.
The state recorded 19,554 new COVID-19 cases last week, and the percentage of tests coming back positive increased, averaging over 9% for the last week. Cases, hospitalizations and the positivity rate were all at their highest levels last week since mid-December.
The state health department issued a statement asking the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu; get a booster shot if they’re eligible; wear a mask in indoor public places; avoid large gatherings; stay home if they feel sick; and wash their hands frequently.
“The current case and hospital metrics are worrisome and should be a reminder to get vaccinated without delay,” a spokeswoman said.
The COVID-19 model, which extrapolates based on hospitalization data, estimated about one in every 48 Coloradans was contagious with the virus as of Nov. 2. That’s comparable to the worst points of last fall’s surge, Carlton said.
There’s no one clear explanation for the current surge. Hospitalizations are highest in parts of the state with low vaccination rates, showing the danger is greatest for unvaccinated people, Carlton said. A growing evidence base suggests that immunity wanes over time, so people who got vaccinated or recovered from the virus more than six months ago have an increasing risk of getting sick. Cooling weather also tends to help respiratory viruses spread, she said.
“Unvaccinated people face a really high risk,” she said.
The report projected that if trends at the end of October continued, about 1,400 people could be hospitalized with COVID-19 by late November, though that number could be higher or lower, depending on what precautions Coloradans take in the coming weeks.
In the worst-case scenario modeled, about 1,700 people would be hospitalized by mid-December. That’s not as bad as the December 2020 peak of 1,847, but hospitals also have less capacity than they did late last year. More patients are being hospitalized because of other illnesses that got worse because of delayed care, and some nurses and other frontline staff have retired or moved into other jobs.
“As we approach hospital capacity, this impacts all of us” because beds may not be available for other needs, Carlton said. “That’s what makes this surge so frightening.”
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