Colorado’s COVID-19 situation is getting better, and the state can hope for at least a few months of relative peace to prepare for whatever the virus does next, a member of the team modeling the virus’ trajectory said Monday.
Dr. Jon Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said the overall picture is improving at the moment following the apparent peak of the omicron variant’s surge in the state. The percentage of tests coming back positive and the number of new cases are both falling in Colorado — though from high levels, he said.
COVID-19 deaths, however, stopped falling in the state and have risen again in the wake of the fast-spreading omicron variant’s spike in infection and hospitalization.
After the virus’s fifth wave — driven by the delta variant — peaked in the fall, deaths dropped from a weekly high of 262 in the third week of November to a low of 147 in the last week of December. So far, the state has recorded 158 deaths in the first week of January, though that number could further increase as delayed reports come in.
More than 11,000 people have died due to COVID-19 in Colorado since the pandemic started.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 65,287 new COVID-19 cases in the week ending Sunday. That number will likely rise as late reports come in, but it’s unlikely to reach the 86,747 cases reported the previous week.
An average of 24.5% of tests came back positive, though, suggesting the state still doesn’t have a good picture of how widespread the virus is. That number, while down from a recent high of nearly 30%, is still far off the goal of 5%.
Hospitalizations of people across Colorado with confirmed COVID-19 dropped over the weekend, from 1,629 on Friday to 1,581 on Monday. Hospital capacity remained tight, though, with an average of 92% of intensive-care beds and 93% of general beds in use over the last week.
The Colorado chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians issued a news release Sunday saying its members no longer thought it was necessary for the state to activate crisis standards of care, unless the number of COVID-19 patients starts to rise again. Earlier this month, the group had asked Gov. Jared Polis to activate crisis standards, which would provide legal protection to doctors forced to triage patients and provide less-than-ideal care.
“While we continue to see larger than normal volumes in our (emergency departments), there has been some improvement in COVID volumes across the state and those decreases seem to be holding for now,” group said in the news release said. “With the plateau and subsequent decrease in COVID cases we were able to stabilize our (emergency departments), and unless we were at a false peak this should hold for now.”
It appears omicron may be running out of people to infect, since so many people have either had it or were protected because they recently got their vaccines or boosters, Samet said. That protection should last for a few months, though it likely will be waning by the time fall returns, he said.
Colorado has generally seen a lull in COVID-19 infections during the summer, with transmission picking up as the weather cools off and kids return to school.
It’s possible Colorado won’t get that break if a new variant emerges that’s even more contagious and harder for the immune system to detect than omicron, Samet said. But assuming nothing particularly worrisome evolves in the next few months, the state and federal governments could use that time to improve testing infrastructure, get high-quality masks into more hands and encourage more people to get their shots, he said.
“That will be an opportunity to hopefully up vaccination rates,” he said.
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