Colorado COVID-19 hospitalizations below 100, an all-time low

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Medical assistant Jazmine Helkena, left, administers a COVID-19 vaccine during a pop-up clinic Friday evening, December 3, 2021, in the community center of the Villages at Gateway Apartments in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood. The event, organized by Julissa Soto, Conectores de Montbello and Kids in Need of Dentistry, provided gift bags to the first 60 kids vaccinated, as well as a visit with Santa Claus.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Colorado fell this week below 100 for the first time in the pandemic. 

According to the state's COVID-19 dashboard, there were 84 patients hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday. That's below the 116 recorded in mid-March of 2020, the first week for which the state recorded and posted data for the pandemic.

“The drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations is very encouraging and something that most healthcare workers are celebrating,” said Dr. Anuj Mehta, a pulmonary care physician at Denver Health. He said it’s important to note “most hospitals remain incredibly busy with non-COVID patients who are much sicker and tend to stay in the hospital for longer periods of time than before the pandemic.” 

He said healthcare systems across the state continue to face significant staffing issues, which may worsen as healthcare workers “finally take a moment to reflect on the immense psychological trauma they have suffered in the last two years.”

The milestone comes after 24 months of the highly transmissible virus sickening and killing many Coloradans, and driving a curve of hospitalizations, seemingly as lofty and saw-toothed as a ridgeline on one of the state’s 14ers.

Four times since the pandemic began, COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked above 850, in mid-April of 2020 at 888, in December 2020 when it soared to an all-time high of 1,847, the peak of the Delta wave of 1,576 in November of 2021, and the height of the Omicron surge at 1,676 in mid-January.

Fifty-two percent of those now hospitalized are unvaccinated 

Colorado's seven-day positivity rate, its percentage of positive tests, remains stable and low at just above three percent. The state reported about five COVID-19 cases per 100-thousand, though most home rapid tests are not reported.

The virus has proven highly adept at mutating and creating more illness. Health officials say they’re watching for variants, like the Omicron subvariant BA.2, closely.

BA.2 made up 30 percent of Colorado’s cases as of the week of March 13, the most recent week with data. The original Omicron variant, known as BA.1, accounts for about 70 percent of cases. Since the BA.2 subvariant arrived in Colorado at the end of January, it’s roughly doubled its percentage of cases every week up until March.

State public health officials and epidemiologists have said they’re hopeful about the protection provided by the state’s relatively high vaccination rate, combined with high infection rates, mostly due to Omicrom. Nearly 70 percent of the state’s population has received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Roughly half have also received an additional booster, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard

State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said during a news conference on Monday that she’d watch hospitalization, case, and positivity data as well as BA.2 variant trends in Europe and on the East Coast “to really try and understand what these trends might mean for us.”

Hospital staff are relieved and tired, said Dr. Michelle Barron, an infectious disease expert at UCHealth, earlier in March, but she’s also cautiously optimistic about the ongoing improving hospital trends in Colorado.

Barron said frontline providers have seen hospitals packed with COVID-19 patients, often for months, and it’s been a long pandemic. So when coronavirus hospital patient census numbers drop, it’s a bit unsettling. 

“It makes me have a double take where I look and I'm like, ‘did I read it wrong? Is that really all we have? That's not in one hospital, that's the whole system?’” she said. “It makes me smile.”

Doctors and health experts continue to stress importance of vaccines

“My biggest message, though, is that now is the time to act to protect yourselves and hospitals from another crisis,” said Denver Health’s Mehta, noting the BA.2 subvariant is increasing in Colorado and throughout the US and there will likely be another COVID-19 variant in the future. 

“For those who are unvaccinated or not boosted, now is the time to get vaccinated and get boosted,” said Mehta. “That is the best thing you can do right now to protect the normality that we have all fought so hard to regain.” 

The latest numbers do come with a grim reminder of the pandemic’s toll. The state is set to soon surpass another tragic milestone: 13,000 coronavirus deaths. Some 12,989 Coloradans have now died due to COVID-19, according to the latest figures, a true measure of COVID-19’s unrelenting lethality.