Cases of COVID-19 in Colorado hit a new high last week, but it’s not yet clear if that partly reflects the fallout of an early July blip.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 3,799 cases of the new coronavirus in the week ending Sunday, marking the sixth week of increasing cases. The total likely will rise, though, because the state on Monday said newly reported cases “may be artificially low” due to a computer issue.
Even with possible undercounting, the week exceeded the previous peak of 3,760 cases in late April. The actual situation was likely worse in April, however, because people with milder coronavirus symptoms often couldn’t get tested.
It’s not yet clear if the increase over the last few weeks reflects a steady rise in COVID-19 cases, said Beth Carlton, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.
Data on people’s reports of when their symptoms started shows a spike on July 6, and a general downward trajectory for nine days after that. It can take up to 10 days to process data about infections, so we can’t yet know if the recent reports reflect people newly developing symptoms, or getting tested for ones that started earlier in the month, she said.
“That’s the puzzle we’re trying to figure out,” she said.
Usually it takes an average of five days to develop symptoms after exposure, so the July 6 spike seems early if people got infected at Independence Day celebrations, Carlton said. This virus has more of a “bumpy” trajectory than most, maybe because people are adjusting their behavior, she said.
Hospitalizations remained roughly stable to start the week, with 250 people receiving care for COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon, according to the Colorado Hospital Association. Hospitalizations hit a low of 126 in late June, rose to 275 on July 20, and have bounced between 240 and 250 for the last week. No hospitals reported concerns about a shortage of intensive-care beds in the next week.
The hospitalization trend is encouraging, though it’s too early to be sure if the numbers will stay stable, Carlton said. The Colorado School of Public Health had released projections earlier this month forecasting that the state could run out of intensive-care beds by fall if rapid increases in cases continued — a scenario that seems less likely now.
“I never wanted to be wrong so much in my life,” she said.
Since March, the state has reported 44,565 cases of the new coronavirus and 6,271 hospitalizations. The virus has killed 1,668 people. An additional 131 people died with the virus, but it wasn’t believed to be the cause.
People younger than 40 continued to account for an increasing share of new infections, which may have helped keep new hospitalizations and deaths down. The state reported 11 deaths last week, though that number may grow because of delayed reporting.
While the numbers allow for cautious optimism, it doesn’t mean the public can stop taking precautions like wearing masks and avoiding crowds, Carlton said.
“We don’t know if cases are going to go up or down,” she said. “We still need guard rails.”
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