Colorado hospitalizations for COVID-19 are at their highest point since December 2020. (Getty Images)
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado are now above 1,500 for the first time this year, and state health officials say if the trend continues, hospital capacity will be overwhelmed by the end of December.
“We are fairly close to what those projections were showing last week,” state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said during a briefing by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Wednesday, referring to modeling that showed the state surpassing 2,000 patients over the next five weeks.
Even though there was a slight dip in patients over the weekend, those numbers are increasing again. There are 1,526 COVID-19 patients in the hospital as of Nov. 17 and only 75 ICU beds available, CDPHE incident commander Scott Bookman said.
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“While there are from time to time some bumps up and down like we see in all our other data points, the overall trajectory and comparison to previous times really puts us in a precarious position here with the total number of beds available,” Bookman said.
Gov. Jared Polis set a goal to add 500 additional hospital beds by mid-December. Bookman said that the state is currently analyzing capacity and space to create open beds, and will then work to match the new beds with staff.
Despite calls from health leaders to institute a mask mandate — and the fact that mask wearing is a key component of state messaging — Polis has yet to implement one.
A coalition of six metro-Denver public health departments sent a letter to Polis on Nov. 12 urging him to issue a statewide mask mandate for indoor settings in light of the hospitalization surge. They wrote that a mandate, in conjunction with boosters and monoclonal antibody treatment strategies that the state is already undertaking, will relieve the state’s hospitals.
State officials continue to encourage mask wearing but fall short of calling for or supporting a mandate.
“We should all be wearing masks right now, regardless of whether there is a mandate or not,” Bookman said.
COVID-19 cases in children
The highest COVID-19 case rates in Colorado are among children aged 5 to 11 years old, approaching a seven day average of 80 cases per 100,000 people.
“We continue to see the highest rates of disease transmission occurring among our school-aged children, specifically those school aged children that are now newly eligible for vaccination, which I think calls for trying to bring up the immunization rates in those kids quickly,” Herlihy said.
Providers have administered over 58,000 doses to children in that 5 to 11 age range, according to CDPHE data.
The next highest case rates are in the state’s adult population.
Herlihy said that data from earlier in the school year showed that masks were effective in preventing transmission in schools. Not every school district has a mask mandate.
“I don’t have any reason to believe that the analysis we did several months ago wouldn’t hold true today,” she said. “Again, we continue to recommend mask use for all kids in schools across Colorado. It’s a really important strategy, but obviously most important is to see those immunization rates increase.”
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