Colorado approaches new pandemic peak as COVID hospitalizations top 1,500 and only 75 ICU beds remain available

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Denver Health Paramedics ambulance.

The coronavirus pandemic keeps getting worse in Colorado. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations hit 1,526 on Wednesday, the highest level Colorado has reached since last December. Four out of five hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. 

That number is poised to exceed the pandemic high of 1,847 from last year's big wave. 

“On our current trajectory we still do seem to be heading very much in that direction,” said Scott Bookman, the state incident commander, who helps lead the state's pandemic response.

With some fluctuations, transmission, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all been rising since the end of the summer. This fifth wave of the pandemic resembles the largest surge to date, which peaked Dec. 1, 2020. 

The week ending Oct. 31, Colorado recorded 213 deaths among COVID-19 cases. That was the highest number since the last week of December, according to the state’s dashboard.


But a year ago, vaccinations weren’t an option. And this year, the big pinch is coming in part because of staffing shortages. Thirty-eight percent of hospitals said they anticipated a staffing shortage in the next week.

Bookman encouraged those who can to work from home, to limit contact outside of immediate family and to wear masks, especially in crowded indoor spaces. 

“Especially with the holidays approaching, we really want to try and minimize infections being spread from person to person, whether that's COVID or other infections,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist. 

Bookman said there are now just 75 ICU beds available in the state. 

“We are still seeing the lowest number of beds available in the state of Colorado than we have seen at any previous point in the pandemic,” he said.

He said the state had about 575 medical surgical beds available but noted both vary significantly day-to-day. 


Colorado is not yet at the point where the state would enact crisis standards of care, a rationing of care, or limiting scheduled elective surgeries, Bookman said. But those options are now regularly discussed with hospitals. 

“We're not there today, but we are in constant communication with our hospitals as we evaluate what the best thing to do is,” he said. 

Bookman says the state is working to add 500 additional hospital beds and the staff to treat more patients. 

Asked by a reporter if the state health department is prepared to go against the wishes of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to impose tougher public health restrictions, Bookman sidestepped the question.

“We have been one team from the beginning on this response. It has been an all-of-state effort to do this together. These are difficult times, the general public has a desire to move on from the pandemic. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not done with us,” he said. “This is something that we're all going to do together as we move into the next phase of this.”

Bookman reiterated his frequent call for Coloradans to get vaccinated, to get a booster shot, if you're feeling sick stay home, to get tested, and wait for your results.

“We should all be wearing masks right now, regardless of whether there is a mandate in place or not. But this is a way to keep ourselves safe,” Bookman said.

Herlihy spotlighted a graphic showing, with new age-adjusted methodology the state is now using, those who are vaccinated are about 4 times less likely to become a COVID-19 case, 10 times less likely to be hospitalized and 13 times less likely to die from the coronavirus.