Lowest ICU bed availability in Colorado since pandemic began

By: - September 10, 2021 6:21 pm
Jared Polis

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs for delivery of the state’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine at the laboratory for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, on Dec. 14, 2020, in east Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, pool)

Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients are causing extraordinary stress on Colorado hospitals, and fewer intensive-care unit beds are available in the state than at any time since the pandemic began, Gov. Jared Polis and state public health officials said during a Friday news briefing.

As of Thursday, available ICU beds in Colorado dropped below 200 to 197, according to Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander.


There were more COVID hospitalizations during the winter surge of coronavirus infections, but as vaccines became available and Coloradans returned to their pre-pandemic lives, cases of trauma, heart attacks and other demands for ICU beds have combined with COVID cases to strain hospital resources.

“Our hospitals are beginning to put into place their surge plans,” Bookman said during the briefing. “I cannot stress enough the state that our hospitals are currently in today, the stress that they are feeling, the impact that this wave is having on them, and the absolute importance of getting vaccinated to end this pandemic.”

ICU bed availability declines
The chart shows the availability of ICU beds in Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a peak of 733 around the beginning of June 2020 and a low of 197 on Sept. 9, 2021. (Governor Jared Polis Facebook)

As of this week, 75% of all eligible Coloradans — everyone 12 and older — have been vaccinated. That’s a far lower number than is required for robust community protection. Many people have avoided vaccines based on misinformation and conspiracy theories

“The burden of the unvaccinated on our hospitals is profound, and it impacts all Coloradans, because those who are vaccinated will struggle to get the same level of care in the hospital that they would get if there were fewer COVID hospitalizations,” Bookman said.

Out of 894 people hospitalized in Colorado with COVID-19 on Thursday, the vast majority — 726 — were not fully vaccinated, Polis said.

“We would not be anything close to hospital capacity or crisis or ICU limits if everybody was vaccinated,” he said. 

Vaccine doses first arrived in Colorado on Dec. 14. Polis announced on July 9 the end of health emergency executive orders, citing the success of the state’s response to the pandemic.

Friday’s briefing had a darker tone.

“I was excited back in December of 2020 when I signed the FedEx slip for the very first shipments of a life-saving vaccine. You could really feel the sense of hope in the air,” he said. “But it’s disappointing that about a quarter of our fellow Coloradans have not taken advantage of this opportunity to protect themselves and their families. We’re seeing needless hospitalizations. We’re seeing needless deaths.”

Vaccines are free, widely available, and demonstrated to be safe and effective.


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