COVID-19 hospitalizations are down in Colorado but still far above summer levels

42,000 vaccine doses had been administered in the state as of Tuesday night

Gina Harper, clinical coordinator with pharmacy, measures out the exact amount of the COVID-19 vaccine for a dose before it is administered to the first patients in Colorado at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital on Dec. 14, 2020, in Fort Collins. The first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in Colorado to front-line health care workers in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, Pool)

Though Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have declined significantly in the last few weeks, the state is still months away from getting its case numbers back down to where they were during the summer months.

“The number of cases we’re seeing right now based on that seven day average is equivalent to what we were seeing in the state in early November,” said Rachel Herlihy, the state’s top epidemiologist, during a media briefing on Wednesday.

Herlihy said based on the current trajectory of 82% transmission control, Colorado could get back to it’s low summer case numbers by mid-March. “But if that transmission control drops to around 70%, it really takes us at least until June to get back down to those numbers,” she added.

Third COVID-19 hospitalization peak came Dec. 1

Scott Bookman, Colorado’s COVID-19 incident commander with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the state is making progress in decreasing the number of COVID hospitalizations, but there’s still a long way to go.

Colorado’s COVID hospitalizations first peaked in the spring with 888 people, according to Bookman, then again in July with 275 people hospitalized. The state saw its highest number yet on Dec. 1 with 1,847 hospitalizations. As of Wednesday, Sherman said the number of hospitalizations have dropped down to 1,222.

“That is a dramatic downward slope, and we are glad to see that happening,” Bookman said. “But I think it is crucial to remember that that peak in where we are today is still well above where we were in the spring, and that our hospitals and health care providers are still feeling incredible stress from the amount of patients who are currently sick and hospitalized with COVID as we go into the holiday week.”

Over 42,000 vaccine doses administered as of Tuesday

Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman, who leads the state’s vaccination distribution task force, said on Wednesday that Colorado is set to receive 95,600 doses of Moderna by the end of the week, providing 151 health care facilities around the state with the vaccine. 

The state has already received 95,100 of the doses and expects to get the other 500 allocated doses delivered by Wednesday. 

Of the over 50,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine that the state received last week, over 42,000 doses have been administered as of late Tuesday night, according to Sherman.

Next week, Colorado expects to receive 32,900 doses of Moderna and 51,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. 

Of next week’s Pfizer allocation, 36,000 doses will be distributed through the CDC pharmacy partnership to long-term care facilities. The remaining 15,000 doses will be shipped to providers throughout the state. CVS and Walgreens is expected to begin vaccinating skilled nursing facilities as early as Dec. 28, according to Sherman. 

“So that’s really great news that we’ll get going on that and really start vaccinating our most vulnerable population,” he said. 

New COVID strains found in other parts of the world yet to be detected in U.S. 

Herlihy gave a brief update on what the state knows about the new strains of the coronavirus reported in the U.K. and South Africa.

“The new variants that have emerged in the U.K. and South Africa do appear to be more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 virus that have been circulating across the globe,” Herlihy said. “But what we understand so far is that it doesn’t appear that these strains, these variants, in the U.K. and South Africa are causing more severe illness.”

She added that there has been no indication yet that the vaccine would be less effective against the new strains, which have yet to be detected in the United States. 

“As we learned with COVID in the spring, we know that the virus can travel rapidly with international travel, so it’s certainly possible that they are here and just haven’t been detected yet,” Herlihy said. “Both CDC and the CDPHE Lab are doing enhanced work to do the sequencing work to look for these strains. Again, we haven’t found them yet, but we are going to be looking and enhancing our surveillance.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately state the number of hospitalizations on Dec. 1. An official misstated the number during the news briefing.

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