Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high despite falling case counts

New reported cases of COVID-19 in Colorado fell for a second week, but hospitalizations remained high, raising questions about the virus’s true spread.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 8,277 cases in the week ending Sunday, which was about 4,000 fewer than two weeks ago.

Statewide, the percentage of tests coming back positive also is lower than it was a week ago, though hotspots remain. In Jackson and Conejos counties, more than 20% of tests came back positive over the last week.

In previous waves, hospitalizations began decreasing one to two weeks after cases started to fall. As of Monday afternoon, 703 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That was down from Saturday, but hospitalizations often have fallen for a day or two before rising again.

Colorado hospitals have admitted an average of about 100 people with COVID-19 each day for the last two weeks, and that isn’t declining yet, said Beth Carlton, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

On Monday, hospitals admitted 142 coronavirus patients, and hospitalizations rose at least half of the previous 14 days in Arapahoe, Jefferson, Pueblo and Mesa counties.

The “decoupling” of cases and hospitalizations suggests more infections aren’t being detected than in previous waves, Carlton said. Since most older people have been vaccinated, the virus is circulating in younger people, who are less likely to have symptoms — and if they’re feeling well, they’re probably not going to get tested, she said.

“We think infections are either increasing or flat,” she said.

The B.1.1.7 variant, which is the most common version of the virus in Colorado, does increase a person’s odds of severe illness, but that’s likely not enough to explain why cases and hospitalizations are moving in different directions, Carlton said.

The latest modeling report estimated about one in 86 Coloradans was contagious as of the end of April. The odds any given person is infectious are higher than in spring 2020, but about half of what they were in November.

If you’re going out, there’s a good chance you’ll run into a person who’s contagious, making contacts risky for people who aren’t vaccinated, Carlton said. Hospitalizations and deaths are expected to decline over the next few months, but we’ll get back to relative normal faster if people are immunized quickly, she said.

More than 2.1 million Coloradans have been fully vaccinated, but the pace of getting the shot to new people has slowed in recent weeks.

“The most important thing you can do to protect your health and the health of your loved ones is to get vaccinated,” Carlton said.

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