For the first time in weeks, Colorado’s COVID-19 numbers are looking a little better — though it’s too early to say whether the state has really turned a corner.
The number of people hospitalized with the virus across the state dropped over the weekend, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. On Friday, 1,476 people were receiving care for confirmed COVID-19, but by Monday, 1,431 were.
There’s still not much slack in Colorado’s health care system, though, with only 94 beds available in intensive-care units statewide.
The last time that hospitalizations dropped for three days in a row was Oct. 7-9. They promptly rebounded and rose for the next month, though. It’s too early to know whether the same thing will happen now, said Dr. Jon Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health.
“If you’re the 100% optimist, it’s a glimmer” of hope, he said. “We’ve seen this bouncing around before.”
New cases appeared to fall from 20,940 in the first week of November to 19,161 in the week ending Sunday. The numbers released by the state on Monday’s have been incomplete in recent weeks, though. In some instances, a drop became less steep, or even has turned into an increase, after late reports came in.
The percentage of tests coming back positive continued to hover around 9.9%. Anything above 5% raises concerns that the state could be missing cases.
As of Monday, Colorado had dropped to the seventh-highest rate of cases compared to population, according to The New York Times data tracker. Late last week, the state had the second-highest rate in the country, but Colorado’s cases appeared to plateau in recent days while other states surged past.
If this weekend was the start of a meaningful improvement, it’s possible that the sustained drumbeat of worrisome news encouraged Coloradans to wear their masks or avoid crowds, Samet said. It’s not totally clear why cases and hospitalizations surged now, though, so pinpointing a reason why they turned around — or didn’t — is a difficult task.
“Perhaps people have gotten the message,” he said.
On Sunday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that proof of vaccination will be required to attend unseated events with more than 500 attendees from Friday through Dec. 31 in six metro Denver counties. The requirement applies to Denver, Broomfield, Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder and Jefferson counties.
A spokeswoman for the state health department said the public health order applies only to seated events because events at which people remain in their seats are generally safer.
“Large unseated events could pose greater risk of transmission because individuals can interact with more people,” she said in a statement. “Yesterday’s public health orders represent meaningful regional action while minimizing economic impacts.”
Sunday’s announcement was the latest in a string of measures from Colorado public health officials to try to protect hospital capacity.
Since the end of October, the state has:
- Put a temporary halt to cosmetic surgeries
- Asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send health care teams to hotspots
- Reactivated “crisis standards of care” to give hospitals guidance on how to stretch staff
- Considered how to ration care, if necessary
- Expanded access to monoclonal antibody treatments
- Declared all adults are eligible for COVID-19 booster shots, if enough time has passed since their initial shots
If Colorado can start driving cases down now, it will be in a better place when people gather for Thanksgiving in less than two weeks, Samet said. If cases are still rising then, travel and dinner parties could temporarily accelerate the spread, he said.
“You might have a little bit of cushion” if cases truly are falling, he said.
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