Colorado’s Hospitals Are Filling Up As Delta Spreads, But There Are Still Plenty Of Beds Available

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A negative pressure room inside St. Joseph Hospital, March 10, 2020.

Colorado’s hospital capacity rate is ticking upwards as the more contagious Delta variant sweeps through the state.

Over the past 30 days, ICU beds have gone from 72 percent to 80 percent occupied, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But state health officials are confident the health care system can handle the increase in hospitalizations.

“The topline message here is that we do still have a significant amount of hospital bed capacity across the state,” said Scott Bookman, the CDPHE’s COVID-19 incident commander.

During the pandemic’s peak last December, more than 1,800 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 at any given moment, Bookman said. That compares with roughly 600 people today, he said. 

As of the last report Wednesday, hospitals in southeast Colorado and the San Luis Valley were at just 50 percent of capacity. The most crowded hospitals are in the “Plains to Peak” region from the Kansas border through El Paso County, where just nine percent of current ICU beds are available.

The CDPHE is starting work on a deeper dive on pediatric ICU capacity, Bookman said, as there has been a slight increase in pediatric hospitalization rates. The rise appears to be due to the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant — as opposed to more severe illness, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

“It could be a little bit of both … there’s really not a ton of data available right now to suggest whether hospitalization rates are higher among children or not,” Herlihy said.

Hospitalization rates among children for other respiratory viruses started to increase in the past few weeks, and that trend will likely continue as the weather turns cold, she added.

“That’s a really important part of the story,” she said.

Unvaccinated people are currently seven times more likely to end up hospitalized for COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated, according to Herlihy.