COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado could hit 500 by June, report projects

If current COVID-19 trends continue, 500 or more people could be hospitalized with the virus in Colorado by mid-June, according to a new report from the state’s modeling team released Friday.

The new modeling report acknowledged there’s a high level of uncertainty about what may happen, since so far hospitalizations haven’t taken off as fast in Colorado as they did after the BA.2.12.1 variant arrived in some northeastern states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that BA.2.12.1 accounts for about one-third of infections in the region including Colorado, and is gaining ground on its cousin BA.2.

The new statewide COVID-19 model comes as Denver public health officials warned Friday that the rising number of infections in the city has moved it from low risk on the CDC’s Community Level indicators to medium risk.

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment urged people at a higher risk of severe disease to take precautions because of the move from green to yellow — or from low risk to medium risk — on the CDC’s dashboard. Boulder and Mineral counties also are yellow, while the rest of Colorado is green.

Counties move into yellow if they had at least 200 new cases per 100,000 people over the last week, or at least 10 COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people. Denver had 209 cases per 100,000 residents.

“Since early April, rates of COVID-19 cases have been slowly, but steadily, increasing,” the Denver health department said in a statement. “While the current surge is not expected to be nearly as large as the omicron surge earlier this year, it’s a good opportunity to remind our community how to stay safe, protected and prepared for COVID-19.”

The new modeling report’s estimate of 500 hospitalizations in Colorado assumes that BA.2.12.1 isn’t significantly better at getting around the immune system than previous versions of omicron and doesn’t cause more severe disease. Some early data suggests that infection with a different version of omicron may not offer strong protection against BA.2.12.1, meaning that even people who had COVID-19 a few months ago could get it again, but that’s not certain.

If BA.2.12.1 is more severe or more evasive, COVID-19 hospitalizations could peak closer to 800. As of Tuesday, the state reported 116 hospitalizations.

“This may place some strain on health care systems, but not nearly to the degree experienced during prior surges. This is because Colorado continues to experience high levels of protection from the most severe outcomes due to immunity from vaccination and previous infection,” a statement from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said.

Cases could peak around 8,000 to 9,000 per day. That’s not as bad as the previous wave, when more than 20,000 cases were reported on the busiest day, but it would have been an unheard-of level before January.

“While there is still uncertainty around the behavior of omicron subvariants, this latest modeling report provides us with several possible outcomes over the coming months,” state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said in a news release. “We are also monitoring trends in multiple states on the East Coast where BA.2.12.1 arrived before we detected it in Colorado, as many of our recent COVID-19 trends have followed closely behind these states in recent months.”

The modeling team estimated that somewhere between one in 108 and one in 149 Coloradans are currently infected. That estimate also carries more uncertainty than usual, since fewer people are getting tested.

The state health department urged everyone to make sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations; get tested if they have symptoms and isolate until they get their results; and seek treatment if they test positive. Multiple treatments are authorized for people who have risk factors for severe COVID-19, including compromised immune systems, diabetes and obesity.

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