Hospital capacity could be exceeded by late December in Colorado due to COVID-19

    BRIEF

    Colorado state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy participates in a news briefing on Oct. 20, 2020, on Colorado's response to COVID-19. (Governor Jared Polis Facebook)

    Colorado officials on Oct. 20 painted a troubling picture of the state’s COVID-19 situation, with its fast-rising cases and hospitalizations.

    Modeling presented by state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy at a news briefing showed that if current levels of transmission are maintained, Colorado’s intensive care bed capacity would be exceeded by late December.

    “We unfortunately see the largest projected increases in deaths when ICU capacity is breached,” Herlihy said. “Now is the time to continue to follow public health guidance, and we need everyone to take an all-of-the-above approach, because each action adds a layer of protection: Stay home when you are sick, wear a mask, physically distance, avoid gatherings and wash your hands.”

    As of Oct. 20, 417 people were hospitalized in the state with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and an additional 99 patients with possible cases, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    That’s more people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state than on any day since May 23.

    Based on current levels of disease transmission, Colorado is projected to exceed the level of hospitalizations seen in the spring by about mid-November, Herlihy said. CDPHE data shows about three-quarters of intensive care beds are currently in use statewide — not just for COVID-19 patients, but in total.

    Among health care facilities reporting data to CDPHE, 3% expect staff shortages within the next week, and 3% expect shortages of personal protection equipment.

    Herlihy said the state’s modeling shows that control measures like physical distancing and mask wearing are limiting virus transmission by 66%. But to get back on track, Colorado needs to limit transmission by 75%.

    “The story is better or worse depending on whether distancing increases or decreases between now and Thanksgiving,” Herlihy said.

    Another way to avoid overwhelming hospitals this winter, she added, is to get a flu shot. Herlihy recommends that anyone who hasn’t gotten one yet do so this month.

    The website VaccineFinder.org has an interactive map showing where to get a flu shot. Insurance providers are required to cover flu shots. However, depending on your insurance, you may only be able to get vaccinated at certain places — so check with your provider if you don’t want to pay about $40 out of pocket.

    CDPHE also has an interactive map showing providers you can ask about getting a free flu shot, if you’re uninsured. Make sure to call the provider ahead of time to make sure they can vaccinate you for free.

    The state’s test positivity rate is above 5%, a sign that the testing occurring is inadequate to control the virus’ spread. The seven-day average positivity rate was 5.45% for the week ending Oct. 18.

    “Many Coloradans are experiencing what may or may not be respiratory symptoms due to the poor air quality, and if you have a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, get a COVID test,” Polis said.

    Anyone experiencing symptoms or who believes they were exposed to the virus can get tested for free at a community testing site. If you believe you were exposed but don’t have symptoms yet, health officials recommend waiting seven to 10 days after exposure before getting tested, or you could get a false negative result.