The spread of the novel coronavirus in Colorado is beginning to show signs of slowing even though confirmed cases in the state continue to rise, state health officials said Monday.
Testing has confirmed 5,172 COVID-19 cases in the state and 150 deaths, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials announced. Around 17,000 to 18,000 Colorado residents are believed to be infected, state health director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said, emphasizing that the cases confirmed by tests represent just a portion of the overall infections.
Colorado now has recorded the state’s first coronavirus-related death of someone in their 30s, according to health department data, while five people in their 40s have now died in connection with COVID-19. No specifics were immediately available about those deaths.
A total of 994 people have been hospitalized and there are now 41 outbreaks at non-hospital health care facilities.
Despite the continuing uptick in cases, state health officials on Monday said Colorado’s early social distancing measures were beginning to pay off and they estimated about 1,200 potential COVID-19 cases in Colorado have been prevented.
“We’ve certainly seen that the cases every day seem to be increasing, but not at an exponential rate,” said Eric France, chief medical officer of the Department of Public Health and Environment. “We’ve also seen cases potentially plateauing in the hospitals, and we’re hoping that is a trend that will continue for the week coming forward. It would be a bright light, essentially, pointing to all the physical distancing work that’s happened over the prior weeks.”
The current slowdown doesn’t yet reflect the impact of the statewide stay-at-home order, which could slow the spread of cases further. That impact ought to be reflected in the data beginning sometime this week, said state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy.
Still, officials cautioned, the state health care system is already experiencing strain from the current COVID-19 cases, and even with extensive social distancing, intensive care unit beds in Colorado could still run out by late April or mid-May. The best way to avoid that scenario, officials said Monday, was by reducing social contacts by at least 70% to 80%, which would likely keep the number of COVID-19 patients at a manageable level.
Colorado could see its cases peak anytime from May to later in the summer, Herlihy said. It would be better for the peak to happen later rather than sooner, she said, as that indicates a slower spread of the virus and likely a lower peak.
“If we don’t take this seriously, we will continue to see an increase in cases and a tragic loss of life. We will see our hospitals become overwhelmed and our health care system having to make tough decisions,” Herlihy said, adding later, “Now is not the time to back off. Now is the time to pat ourselves on the back and keep doing what we’re doing.”
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