Colorado’s COVID-19 cases move in the right direction, but will hospitalizations follow?
Most of Colorado’s COVID-19 numbers are moving in the right direction, but hospitalizations haven’t followed — for reasons that still aren’t clear.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 12,450 new cases in the week ending Sunday. It was the lowest weekly total since late October, and a welcome sight after two weeks of small increases following Christmas.
The percentage of tests coming back positive also fell, indicating that the decline in new cases wasn’t caused by a failure to test enough people.
Deaths continued to trend down. An average of 22 people died of COVID-19 each day in the first week of January, compared to 68 per day in the first week of December.
Hospitalizations defy easy interpretation, however. They generally had declined from Dec. 2 to Jan. 10, when 873 people were being treated for confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Then they seesawed between the high 800s and low 900s for the next week. The changes were so small, and fluctuations are so common, that experts considered hospitalizations to have plateaued.
As of Monday, 862 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That’s the lowest number since early November, but also a small-enough change that it’s not clear if it marks the end of the plateau.
There are at least two possible explanations for what’s happening with hospitalizations, and we need a few more days of data to know which is right, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.
One is that hospitalizations truly have plateaued for some unknown reason. The other is that the barely-noticeable increase came from the small bump in cases in the two weeks following Christmas, she said.
“It’s a puzzle,” she said.
It would be “concerning” if hospitalizations remain on a plateau, because they’re much closer to the spring peak than the summer trough, Carlton said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that Americans could face difficult months ahead, particularly if a new strain of the virus spreads as expected. The CDC’s models showed the strain, which is more contagious than other variants of the virus, could account for a majority of cases by March, according to The Washington Post.
Colorado has identified six cases of the new variant. It’s reasonable to assume there are more that haven’t been found, though it doesn’t appear to be widespread at this point, Carlton said. The new variant isn’t more likely to seriously sicken or kill any particular individual, but it still could tax hospitals if it spreads widely.
“If more people get infected, that means more hospitalizations and more deaths,” she said.
Statewide, about one in 114 Coloradans is currently contagious, though the odds are much worse in some counties on the Eastern Plains. About one in 36 people is infectious in the region including Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson and Lincoln counties, and the southeastern counties also continue to have high infection rates.
Since March, 376,171 Colorado residents have been infected with COVID-19, and 20,717 have been hospitalized. The state has reported 5,386 deaths linked to the new coronavirus.
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