Colorado’s “fourth wave” of COVID-19 isn’t the worst in the country, but there’s no sign it’s over yet

Colorado’s “fourth wave” of COVID-19 isn’t among the absolute worst spikes in the country, but it’s difficult to tell where it might go in the second half of April.

Hospitalizations in Colorado from confirmed or suspected COVID-19 increased 33% from March 18 through Sunday, which was the 14th-highest rate of increase in the country.

It’s nowhere near as bad as Michigan and Minnesota, where hospitalizations doubled in that time. Yet 19 states saw hospitalizations for the virus fall over the last month.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 568 people were hospitalized statewide with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon. That was an increase of 16 over Sunday, but only four more than had been hospitalized Saturday.

New hospital admissions have been relatively steady, at about 80 per day over the last two weeks, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

While it’s good news that hospitalizations are “not skyrocketing” right now, we’ll need at least a few more days of data to know if the increases have stopped, she said. It’s not unusual to have a few days that are outliers — days when the numbers level off or slightly decrease, even though hospitalizations are generally going up, or vice versa.

“I think we all hope it’s the beginning of a decline, but I wouldn’t say that with any confidence,” she said.

Colorado’s case increase over the last month also was higher than the majority of states. The total number of new COVID-19 infections grew by about 9.5%, which was the 15th-highest rate of increase. Michigan also had the unfortunate distinction of being at the top there, too, with about 28% more cases than it had on March 18.

All states saw an increase, because the number is cumulative, but 21 of them kept the growth below 5%.

Colorado’s new infections appeared to fall by about 600 compared to the previous week, with 9,927 reported for the week ending Sunday. They had also appeared to decline by a small amount in the week ending April 11, however, but the final result was a modest increase after late reports came in.

Deaths grew very little in Colorado since last month, but that doesn’t tell much about how deadly the fourth wave has been for the younger people who were more likely to be hospitalized this time. People who die of COVID-19 today may have been infected as long as a month ago, and it could be another two weeks until their loss shows up in the state’s statistics.

The numbers also can’t say much about the effect of ending most statewide restrictions Friday and moving to county- and city-level control. It usually takes about two weeks for a policy shift to show up in the numbers, Carlton said, and it may be difficult to find a pattern at the state level.

Most counties chose to relax their restrictions, but to varying degrees, and it’s not clear how much risk residents will embrace in different parts of the state. Health officials have expressed concerns that allowing more mixing while the virus is still widespread could lead to more hospitalizations and deaths, though.

Hospitalizations were rising Monday along much of the Front Range, with increasing numbers reported at least eight of the last 14 days in Denver, Arapahoe, Douglas, Larimer and Weld counties. The rate of tests coming back positive over the last week also reached concerning levels in 10 counties spread around the Front Range, the high country and the Western Slope.

Carlton said she’s also concerned about the state’s south-central region, which includes Custer, Fremont, Huerfano, Las Animas and Pueblo counties. The latest regional modeling report, released on Wednesday, showed a high rate of spread there. But everyone should be careful and keep wearing their masks and avoiding crowds until they’re two weeks out from their final shot, she said.

“Until people are fully vaccinated, they face risks,” she said.

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