COVID has killed more than 12,000 people in Colorado

More than 12,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Colorado since the start of the pandemic, with 2,000 of those deaths coming after the worst of the fall’s delta wave was over.

As of Monday afternoon, 12,112 people were confirmed to have died of the virus in the state. The total, compiled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, could include some people who weren’t Colorado residents but who died while receiving care here.

The milestone came as the state’s sixth wave — fueled by the virus’s omicron variant, which followed the delta variant’s surge — continued to recede, with both cases and hospitalizations dropping over the last week.

The state health department reported 705 people were hospitalized in Colorado with confirmed COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon — the lowest number since late August.

The number of new cases was at its lowest level since mid-December, with 12,386 reported in the week ending Sunday. The positivity rate also continued to fall, with about 7.8% of tests finding the virus that causes COVID-19 over the last week. The goal is for that number to be below 5%.

Colorado COVID deaths

3,000 deaths: December 2020
6,000 deaths: March 2021
9,000 deaths: November 2021
12,000 deaths: February 2022
Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Transmission is still high, though, so it’s still a good idea to wear your mask indoors and get a booster shot, if you haven’t yet, said Talia Quandelacy, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health.

Assuming a new variant doesn’t appear and cause another wave, the rate of new deaths should start decreasing in the near future. So far, the BA.2 subvariant — a close relative of omicron — isn’t taking off in Colorado, and it appears unlikely to trigger another surge, Quandelacy said.

Colorado recorded 10,000 deaths two months earlier, on Dec. 14 — the one-year anniversary of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines arriving in Colorado. At the time, the worst of the delta-driven fifth wave was over, and new deaths were expected to keep dropping for some time.

Then omicron hit, and deaths were rising again by mid-January. Deaths always lag behind cases and hospitalizations, because it often takes the virus weeks to kill someone. That means that efforts to prevent people from dying have to start before deaths are rising.

The state doesn’t classify which variant killed people who died of COVID-19, so it’s impossible to know exactly how many deaths were caused by omicron, and how many were from the delta variant. It’s likely that most of the deaths since mid-January are attributable to omicron, however, because delta was on its way out by mid-December, Quandelacy said.

“As omicron began to take over, we would start to see a shift,” she said.

The odds any given person who was infected would die of their illness were significantly lower in the period when omicron dominated than they were when delta held sway. But because omicron was so contagious, it infected a huge swath of the state, including people who were vulnerable to severe illness because they remained unvaccinated, were older, or had health conditions that put them at risk, Quandelacy said.

“You could still have a fairly serious infection” with omicron, she said.

State-level data about the vaccination status of people who died in January isn’t yet available, but the hospitalization risk was about 11 times as high for unvaccinated people as it was for people who have had a booster dose. (People who are fully vaccinated, but didn’t have a third shot, had an intermediate risk level.)

During the worst week of the wave that’s now resolving, an average of 41 people died each day — comparable to 39 daily deaths during the peak week of the delta wave, in November. Fortunately, the state hasn’t again seen anything close to December 2020, when COVID-19 took 69 people each day at the highest point.

Though the current wave’s peak deaths were higher, the fifth wave likely killed more people. So far, 1,071 people have died since the low point at the end of the fifth wave, and while that’s likely to continue rising, it’s not expected to go as high as the 3,659 deaths reported during the long fifth wave, which begun in July and ended in December.

Omicron “did move through our population much faster than the other variants,” Quandelacy said.

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