Benchmarks of COVID steadily improving in Colorado, though still high

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Brynn McFerrin, 5, gets her first COVID-19 vaccination Tuesday, November 9, 2021, at National Jewish Hospital in Denver.

With hospitalizations and test positivity rates on a steady decline, pandemic numbers are looking better every day in Colorado.

Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations fell to 979 on Monday. It's the first time the number has been below a thousand since late last year and is back to about where it was in mid-October.

The majority, 64 percent, of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. 

The positivity rate, the rate of positive tests, a key gauge of transmission, dropped to 12.22 percent. That's still more than double the level public health experts such as University of Colorado epidemiologist May Chu says signals concern.

“I would say between 3 and 5 percent. I usually say 3 percent, I think it's better. Five percent or lower is manageable for hospitals,” said Chu, a clinical professor at Colorado School of Public Health. 

She said Coloradans can drive the number down by getting vaccinated and continuing to adhere to measures like masking, distancing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces. 

“We're not done yet,” Chu said.

Still, that positivity rate is the lowest Colorado has seen since Christmas — when the omicron wave was taking off.

Meantime, the hospital staffing crunch and bed capacity in intensive care units are also improving. 

Forty-four percent of hospitals reported they anticipate a staffing shortage in the next week and 26 percent said they anticipated an ICU bed shortage. Both those figures are down a bit from the sharp spike seen when the omicron variant arrived in Colorado.

Eighty-seven percent of ICU beds were reported in use on Monday. That’s a drop from the mid-nineties in early to mid-December. Nearly 200 ICU beds were available, the highest figure since mid-October when the delta wave was building in the state.

The omicron variant added a wave of at least several hundred deaths in Colorado, the fourth major wave to do so. The death data lags, but the impact of omicron last month is now becoming clear. 

Nearly every day after Jan. 1, the state reported at least 20 deaths a day for almost the entire month. Jan. 23 was a particularly devastating date — among COVID-19 cases, 44 people died; that’s the most since Dec. 3, 2021, as the wave caused by the delta variant was starting to drop. 

The total number of deaths among Colorado cases is now 11,404. The state surpassed a pandemic toll of 10,000 on Dec. 14. So, more than 1,400 have died since then, the majority from infections caused by the omicron variant.