A computer-generated image of the coronavirus. (Getty Images)
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado have surpassed the peak from the recent fall wave as the more infectious omicron variant creates a high case volume.
There were 1,577 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Jan. 12, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. That is one more patient than the Nov. 23 peak last year.
“There’s obviously still a significant strain in our health care system, but things are a little different,” she said during a media briefing Wednesday.
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The key difference is the percent of hospitalizations where COVID-19 is the primary diagnosis. Previously, 80% to 90% of hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 were coded with the virus as the primary diagnosis, meaning those patients were in the hospital because of severe infection.
Now, that share is approximately 65%, meaning hospitals are seeing more patients who seek care for other injuries or illnesses but also happen to test positive for COVID-19. A person could come in with a broken bone, for example, but then also test positive while in the hospital. That drop in the primary diagnosis percentage started around the new year, when omicron was widespread across Colorado.
“While these individuals are not primarily … hospitalized due to COVID-19, in many cases COVID-19 is continuing to complicate their hospitalization or extend their hospitalization,” Herlihy said.
Despite the distinction in patients, incident commander Scott Bookman said it is important to not minimize the impact any patient with COVID-19 has on the health care system. They still require isolation procedures, different staffing ratios, more personal protective equipment to be used when treating them and other specialized processes that can strain capacity.
Colorado activated its crisis standards of care for staffing last fall to give hospitals, which also face staffing shortages, more flexibility during the surge of patients. Bookman said there is a very low possibility that the state will need to activate its more severe crisis standards of care for hospital care.
At the same time hospitalizations are increasing, Bookman said that ICU bed capacity is remaining stable during the omicron surge.
The peak in hospitalizations during this wave could come later this week, Herlihy said, based on modeling from the Colorado School of Public Health. The modeling suggests peak hospitalizations of about 2,100 could come on Jan. 15.
Herlihy said Colorado’s outcome in the next few days will most likely be between the Jan. 11 and Jan. 15 scenarios.
In addition to a peak in hospitalizations, Colorado is also experiencing the highest seven-day average positivity rate of the pandemic, with a nearly 30% positivity. That indicates the omicron variant’s high levels of transmissibility.
Herlihy said that percent positivity is a key indicator for the virus, and once the rate drops she expects case numbers to decrease soon after.
State health officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated and then boosted against COVID-19, and announced $3 million in media spending to reach unvaccinated adults, adults needing boosters and caretakers of unvaccinated children.
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