Colorado breaks another COVID-19 hospitalization record

Denver metro, Foothills and San Luis Valley regions face greatest strain

COVID-19 testing site
COVID Check Colorado operates a testing center at Colorado School of Mines in Golden. (Courtesy of Colorado School of Mines)

Colorado on Nov. 11 reached another grim milestone: More people were hospitalized in the state with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 than at any point in the pandemic.

The next day, the state broke the same record again. As of Nov. 12, 1,183 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases and 139 with suspected cases. The previous record for hospitalizations was set April 9, when 848 people were in the hospital with confirmed cases, and 429 with suspected cases.

“We should only be interacting with those in our households — doing our best to avoid any social interactions with friends and families outside of our homes throughout the month of November,” Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said during a Nov. 12 briefing with reporters.

For the first time on Nov. 12, France’s department began releasing region-specific data on hospital capacity, accessible at covid19.colorado.gov/data. The latest data show that hospitals are facing the greatest strain in the Foothills region containing Grand, Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin and Jefferson counties; the Mile-High region encompassing Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Douglas and Elbert counties; and the San Luis Valley region of Saguache, Mineral, Rio Grande, Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla counties.

ICU bed availability
This graphic from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows available intensive care bed capacity by hospital region, as of Nov. 13. The state is divided into regions governed by a multi-county advisory council that is responsible for planning emergency medical and trauma care. (CDPHE)

The Foothills and Mile-High regions have 10% of intensive care beds available for all hospital patients, while the San Luis Valley region has 12% available.

Colorado has seen an average of 3,658 new cases of COVID-19 each day from Nov. 5 through Nov. 11, according to CDPHE.

Statewide, the two-week incidence rate (the number of new cases per 100,000 people over two weeks) is 772, and the test positivity rate is upwards of 11%. Public health officials seek to achieve positivity rates of below 5% to show that virus transmission is at a manageable level, and that enough testing is occurring in a community to adequately detect cases and outbreaks.

dial system
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has launched a new dial system for tailoring its coronavirus response to different areas of the state. (Office of Governor Jared Polis)

If CDPHE were applying its dial system — used to tailor public health restrictions at the county level — to the entire state at once, the incidence rate alone would put the state into the red level of the dial, which aligns with Stay at Home. Counties with an incidence rate of more than 350 cases per 100,000 people align with the red level.

However, many counties have multiple times that incidence rate, and none have been ordered into Stay at Home by CDPHE — though the entire state is under a public health order limiting personal gatherings to 10 people from no more than two households.

“My hope is that this week and next, the fact that Coloradans are limiting gatherings will be translating into lower case rates,” France said.

In recent days, he said, about 30 counties have also been moved to more restrictive levels of CDPHE’s COVID-19 dial system.

CDPHE metrics
This table shows the COVID-19 transmission thresholds for counties in each level of the new dial system. (CDPHE)

Effective Nov. 13 at 5 p.m., both El Paso County and Douglas County will be moved into the orange level (Safer at Home: Level 3), the level that is one step above the most restrictive level, Stay at Home.

CDPHE also moved Gilpin County and Clear Creek County into the orange level as of the morning of Nov. 13 and Arapahoe County as of Nov. 11.

Under Level 3, indoor events regulated under the state’s Safer at Home order are limited to 50 people and outdoor events to 75 people. Restaurant capacity is set at no more than 50 people or up to 25% capacity, whichever is fewer, and last call for alcohol must be no later than 10 p.m. Houses of worship must stick to 25% capacity with gatherings of no more than 50 people at a time.

While personal gatherings are restricted to 10 people under the statewide order, the dial system’s limits for indoor and outdoor events cover receptions, concerts, markets, trade shows and similar gatherings in venues where people can stay safely distanced from one another.

Among other counties that recently moved: Effective Nov. 9 at 5 p.m., Jefferson County was ordered into the orange level, joining Broomfield, Boulder and Summit, which were moved Nov. 6 from the blue level (Safer at Home: Level 2) to the orange level, and Mesa County, which was moved Nov. 7.

As more counties join the orange level, some are establishing additional public health measures in hopes of avoiding a move to the red level, Stay at Home.

Recently, Boulder County Public Health limited indoor events to 25 people or 25% of a venue’s normal occupancy — a reduction of the current limit of 50 people for counties in the orange level. Boulder County moved to the orange level on Nov. 6.

Effective Nov. 14, the order also bars spectators at all adult recreational, professional and high school sporting events; limits indoor dining to one household per table; and restricts outdoor dining to 10 people per table.

Boulder County’s order ends Dec. 14 unless extended.

“Most of our businesses, communities, and schools are doing exactly what we need to do to reduce the spread of this disease,” Jeff Zayach, the executive director of Boulder County Public Health, said in a Nov. 12 statement. “But when we don’t all take this seriously it impacts everyone — from those who have lost loved ones, to the ability to keep kids in school, to our businesses being able to continue to operate, and certainly our emotional, physical, and mental health.”