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If pace of latest surge isn’t reversed, Colorado could run out of room in hospitals by end of year

(MGN)
Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 7:34 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Cases in Colorado are continuing to climb at an alarming rate, and the window to get this latest surge under control before the holidays is getting narrower by the day.

Numbers are reaching heights never seen in Colorado during the pandemic. Cases reported in a single day have exceeded 2,000 for the first time. The most recent seven-day average sits above 1,400 -- also a record during this pandemic.

Cases began climbing steadily in mid-September and have shown no signs of abating. The below chart shows the stark contrast between this most recent surge and the two surges preceding it in April and July, though the governor did note in his weekly news conference Tuesday that we don’t know for certain the number of cases at the start of the pandemic due to the lack of testing then.

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Even more alarming is the hospitalization trend. During the summer surge, in large part due to the number of younger Coloradans getting the virus compared to the spring, hospitalizations remained low even as cases accelerated. With this most recent surge, the number of COVID cases requiring hospital stays is rising by the week. Projections show that if Colorado maintains the current rate of hospitalization, the state will run out of room in hospitals by the end of the year.

“We are now at our highest point since May,” Gov. Jared Polis said. “As of Oct. 26, 591 total hospitalizations that are likely COVID. ... Since September, our hospitalizations per day have doubled.”

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“The question is not just how many people with COVID are in the hospital," Polis said, “but how many hospital beds do we have left because people are in the hospital for other conditions? ICU beds are not just for COVID. People have heart attacks, traffic accidents, and many other conditions all the time, and Coloradans need that critical attention.”

In the early months of the pandemic, many people were putting off treatment for even life-threatening matters because of fears of becoming infected with the coronavirus at the hospital or of taking up space needed by COVID patients.

“People were deferring surgeries and waiting and not going in, which had its own health challenges in May and June. We were very worried that people who had chest pains weren’t going in for potential heart attacks because they might have been scared of COVID. ... Those are numbers that have returned to normal, but add on top of that [COVID-19 patients]. There’s very little room for error on a normal hospital day. They didn’t build those beds to keep them empty. They run in the 80 percent range regularly, so this COVID piece is entirely on top of everybody that would need to be hospitalized normally.”

Polis said the data for non-ICU beds was similar.

One spot of good news in this eighth month of the pandemic: Polis said that the length of hospital stays on average has decreased since the spring as treatments have improved. Even better, mortality rates for patients entering the hospital with the virus have gone down, from 15 percent in the spring to around 4-7 percent.

“Due to better standards of care for COVID patients, and also kind of baked in here are the increasing younger people getting it,” Polis said.

Younger Coloradans still make up the largest swath of those infected with the virus, with about 40 percent of all cases coming from the 20-39 range.

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While the 20-39 age group has a higher chance of survival, it doesn’t mean they won’t spread the virus to older, more vulnerable populations.

Polis said the state is quickly approaching the need for more extreme measures, though for now he continues to support a localized strategy. Five counties were moved to a higher position on the COVID-19 dial Tuesday, including Denver County, and El Paso County could be soon to follow, as its numbers place it in Safer Level 3 but it is in a temporary grace period for now.

A move to level three would put in place the strictest restrictions short of an actual stay-at-home order.

“Every day, we make medical gains," Polis said. “It is better to get COVID now than it was six months ago, and it’ll be better to get COVID six months from now than it is today. So the longer we can prevent people from becoming infected, the more likely it is that better care will not only increase the survival rate but also be able to reduce the severity of those who experience symptoms for the long haul."

He again urged his fellow citizens to take the virus seriously and do what they can to flatten the curve and save lives.

"So that’s another urgent reason for us to do what we can, to wear masks when we’re out, limit social gatherings, stay safer at home whenever possible, and limit the spread of this deadly virus as medical technology improves.”

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