Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations appear to have finally come off their plateau, dropping 14% from the previous week.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 268 people were hospitalized statewide for COVID-19, down from 313 a week earlier. Hospitalizations had been roughly level since mid-June, bouncing between 300 and 325.
The drop is “substantial,” though one week’s data could be a blip, said Talia Quandelacy, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health. Still, new hospital admissions for the virus, cases and the positivity rate have all been trending down, suggesting a change in the trajectory.
“It seems like we’re continuing on this downward trend,” she said.
It’s not clear what will happen in the coming weeks. Colorado saw virus transmission take off in October 2020 and August 2021, and it’s likely that there will be some increase in infections as students go back to school and more activities move indoors, Quandelacy said.
“The challenge (in projecting infections) right now is a lot of people who were infected in the December-January wave are getting reinfected,” she said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 9,978 new cases in the week ending Sunday, the first time the state dipped below 10,000 per week since early May. Cases are undercounted, meaning that there’s not a clear picture of how many people are truly infected, but the downward trend is still notable, Quandelacy said.
An average of 9.1% of tests came back positive over the last week. That’s still high — indicating the state isn’t finding significant numbers of cases — but it has been trending down since early July.
Active outbreaks dropped slightly, from 390 last week to 385 on Wednesday. The state now only counts outbreaks in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, child care centers, homeless shelters, overnight camps and correctional facilities.
The number of counties considered high risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped to seven: Garfield, Lake, Larimer, Montezuma, Pitkin, Rio Blanco and San Juan. The risk levels are based on case counts and measures of hospitalizations, including the percentage of beds used by patients with the virus.
Nationwide, cases are down slightly, but it’s not clear if hospitalizations are beginning to plateau.
While the indicators are improving, people who want to avoid the virus should still consider wearing high-quality masks in crowded spaces, Quandelacy said. If you’re not feeling well, it’s also a good idea to take a test so that you know to isolate and don’t make others sick, she said.
Though it’s not clear exactly how many people are infected now, the virus is more widespread than it was at the end of summer in 2020 and 2021. That sets the stage for some increase in transmission, but how much of an increase will partially depend on whether updated boosters arrive in time to head off significant numbers of infections; if children get vaccinated before returning to school; and whether new variants displace BA.5, which the boosters are being formulated to combat, Quandelacy said.
Another factor is how much protection a recent infection with the BA.2 or BA.2.12.1 variant offers against BA.5, assuming it remains the dominant version of the virus, Quandelacy said. The state health department reported about 72% of sequenced samples included BA.5 as of July 3, and the CDC estimated BA.5 now accounts for more than 85% of infections across the country. Research suggests that protection is reduced with BA.5, but it’s not clear by exactly how much.
“All of these components would impact how much transmission we would expect to see as the school year gets started,” she said.
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