As Colorado’s new COVID-19 cases remain elevated, state sees uptick in hospitalizations – The Denver Post

Coronavirus infections remained elevated in Colorado for a third consecutive week as the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have begun to creep upward for the first time in months.

Colorado is still not experiencing the same type of surges as states such as Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. But the state’s rate of positive coronavirus test results has jumped since the first week of June, meaning that transmission of COVID-19 is increasing and that the rise in new cases is not simply due to more testing.

The rate of positivity increased from 2.7% the week of June 7 to 3.48% last week, according to the state health department.

“The next week or two there’s going to be a lot of focus on watching that positivity rate,” said Dr. Lisa Miller, professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health.

After two consecutive weeks of increases, the state recorded 1,734 new COVID-19 cases between June 29 and Sunday, a slight drop from the 1,748 cases reported the previous week, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But last week’s total still represents an elevated number of cases. After a steady downward trend, Colorado saw the number of new coronavirus infections increase for the first time since April three weeks ago, when the agency reported 1,484 additional cases the week ending June 21.

The rise in COVID-19 cases is occurring across the state, with counties in both the metro area and the high country reporting double-digit percentage increases in infections during the second half of June.

State and local public health officials have attributed the jump in coronavirus infections to changes in individual behavior as the state reopens its economy and society, including less social distancing. There has also been a growing number of infections among young people, with multiple counties reporting clusters of cases following social gatherings, protests and travel.

Representatives with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did not respond to questions by deadline.

Infections spilling over?

The increase in cases has prompted state officials, including Gov. Jared Polis, to urge Coloradans to avoid coming together in large groups. And last week, the governor ordered bars and nightclubs to close once again to in-person patrons.

COVID-19 basics

Symptoms of COVID-19 — including fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, and nausea — can appear between two and 14 days after exposure, the CDC says.

Public health recommendations:

— Wear masks that cover your mouth and nose

— Stay at least 6 feet from others

— Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

More guidelines: covid19.colorado.gov

On Sunday, there were 171 patients hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infections, up almost 30% from June 29. Hospitalizations dropped slightly on Monday to 165 people. However, that’s still higher than the 132 COVID-19 patients in hospitals a week ago, according to data from the Colorado Hospital Association.

Hospitalizations are an indicator of the severity of the pandemic, and help inform public health policy decisions, such as whether to roll back reopening. While young and adults and teenagers are at a lower risk of complications from COVID-19, they can still end up in the hospital because of the disease. They also can transmit the virus to others without experiencing symptoms themselves.

“You would expect that would lead to fewer hospitalizations than if we were seeing an increase among an older age group,” Miller said. “That’s something that’s on the positive side of things, but going forward, I think the question is will we see those infections spilling over to those older age groups as well?”

Since April, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had declined before plateauing last month. Despite last week’s increase, hospitalizations remain well below the peak of 888 people on April 14.

And COVID-19 deaths in Colorado, now totaling 1,542, have continued their decline since their peak in April.

“Seeing the spike”

Garfield County has seen one of the largest increases, with infections jumping 54% — or by new 105 cases — between June 15 and June 30. So has Boulder County, where the number of new infections increased 27% — or by 296 cases — during the same period. Denver saw an increase of 11%, or 715 cases.

Other counties seeing double-digit percentage increases include El Paso, Douglas, San Miguel, La Plata, Pitkin, Alamosa, Lake, Mesa and Rio Grande, according to state health records.

“We’re seeing the spike as more and more of our restaurants, and shops and all of the services are reopening,” said Carrie Godes, spokeswoman for the Garfield County public health department, adding, “It’s very concerning for us.”

She said public health officials are considering whether the county will have to once again implement stricter social distancing orders.

In Boulder County, the number of new coronavirus cases has slowly declined after its recent spike, said spokeswoman Chana Goussetis.

However, she said, the county is seeing more people testing positive after travel to mountain communities, such as in Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties, as well as travel to other states, including Florida, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Nebraska.

“We cannot confirm that transmission happened in all cases due to this travel, but it is a reminder that travel can increase the likelihood of spreading the virus from one area to another, especially in communities that are experiencing outbreaks or do not have strong preventive measures in place,” Goussetis added in an email.

Denver Post staff writer Meg Wingerter contributed to this report.

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