Colorado could avoid overrunning hospitals by keeping up pre-Thanksgiving COVID-19 precautions
If Coloradans can keep up the level of social distancing they practiced in the week before Thanksgiving, there’s a good chance the state can make it through the end of the year without overwhelming hospitals, according to the latest COVID-19 modeling report.
But if people return to their habits from three weeks ago, hospitals could run out of capacity, especially if many Coloradans gather between Christmas and New Year’s, said Dr. Jon Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health.
“This points to the need for continued maintenance,” he said.
Hospitalizations dropped slightly this week. On Thursday, 1,956 people were hospitalized across the state with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, down from 1,995 on Wednesday. Eighty percent of the Colorado’s intensive care unit beds are in use, according to state data.
Deaths have increased, however, passing their spring peak in the week ending Nov. 22. In that week, 247 people died with COVID-19, passing the record of 237 set in mid-April. Death reports can be delayed up to two weeks, but it appears last week’s deaths could ultimately exceed the spring peak as well.
It’s not yet clear how Thanksgiving weekend might affect the number of new cases and hospitalizations. Previous holiday weekends led to greater spread of the virus, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said, but new cases resulting from Thanksgiving celebrations likely won’t show up in the data until at least Monday.
“I think we’re going to learn quite a bit in the next week or two,” she said.
The state has averaged about 4,000 cases per day over the last week. That’s an improvement over the previous week, but still about four times higher than the rate in mid-October. The rate of tests coming back positive has ranged between 11% and 13%, suggesting some infections are going undetected, Herlihy said.
About 1 in 40 people are currently contagious in Colorado, Samet said. While that was still an increase over last week’s 1-in-41 figure, it wasn’t as drastic a change as in recent weeks.
The model, developed by the Colorado School of Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, includes some uncertainty. It attempts to project what will happen if current conditions continue, but it’s possible that people will further limit their interactions, or will decide to gather despite the virus.
Under the most optimistic scenario, Colorado could see an additional 1,900 COVID-19 deaths by the end of the year. In the worst-case scenario, 4,300 people more could die. As of Thursday, 2,716 people have died of the virus in Colorado, and 604 others died with it. It’s possible the virus could later be determined to be the cause of death for some who died with it, but those reports lag.
“We hope (the death projections) aren’t played out,” Samet said.
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