Colorado’s COVID numbers remain low, but health officials are watching for signs of rising trends

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Masks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus are still required on public transportation Wednesday, March 2, 2022. An RTD bus on 17th Street in Denver flashed a warning sign to riders.

The state's epidemiologist said Colorado's COVID-19 numbers remain low, for now. But she cautioned cases are rising elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad, trends state health officials are following intently.

Dr. Rachel Herlihy said Monday the state’s positivity rate, the 7-day average percentage of tests returning a positive result, is up slightly in recent days, to 3.33 percent.

“That is a little bit up from several days ago. So we're watching this closely. I think it's too early right now to know if this is a true change in trajectory or a trend,” she said. “Our seven-day moving average number of cases right now is 294. Again, very low levels,” she said.

The state's data looks different from the CDC's data for Colorado right now. Here's why

Herlihy also addressed a gap between Colorado COVID-19 data and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that shows up in places like the New York Times website. She said what appears to be a rise in cases is really due to backlogged data the state recently added to its dashboard, and not a reflection of any current increase in cases.

Herlihy said the way that Colorado data is being displayed on the CDC website includes “backfill” cases, backlogged cases reported to the state from the big omicron surge that are being added now. When CDC puts state-level data on their website, they pull that data off of state websites, but the way they do that includes backfill cases, suggesting they are current cases.

“So unfortunately the data that's on CDCs website, which then I think goes on to be the source of information for some media sites, is not completely accurate right now,” Herlihy said.

She added that the state health department is working closely with CDC and sending them files to correct the data.

“So my recommendation would be to look at our state website as really the most accurate picture of COVID-19,” she said.

According to the Times’ website on Sunday, Colorado’s coronavirus trends appeared to be rising, with cases up 30 percent compared to last winter’s U.S. peak, hospitalizations up 7 percent and deaths up 13 percent.

Colorado’s dashboard, updated in the middle of last week, runs counter to that.

Hospitals are busy with a backlog of elective surgeries

For example, last Tuesday, the state health department reported 135 hospitalized coronavirus patients. That's the lowest figure since mid-March of 2020, according to the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard.

One of the state’s largest hospital systems, UCHealth confirmed the low numbers.

Dr. Michelle Barron, an infectious disease doctor with UCHealth, said hospitals are plenty busy, but they’re treating other things.

“Even though our COVID census is certainly at the lowest it's been, our hospital census is not,” she said. “We have a backlog of cases of elective surgeries or semi-elective surgeries, and then everything else that comes in.”

Vaccine milestones

Meantime, Colorado has hit some COVID-19 vaccination milestones — but, state officials said the state still has further to go.

More than two million Coloradans have had three vaccine shots. But immunization branch chief Heather Roth said about 30 percent of the state's eligible population are still missing their third shot, to be fully vaccinated and boosted.

“So just a reminder, booster doses are available at more than 1,900 provider locations across the state, and are very helpful in preventing hospitalization and death,” she said.

Roth said about one million Coloradans remain unvaccinated.