COVID-19 infections could plateau in Colorado, but that’s uncertain

COVID-19 is currently circulating at relatively high levels in Colorado, but what might happen next is unclear.

As of Wednesday, the number of new cases and the percentage of positive tests appeared to be flattening out, although hospitalizations picked up again this week. However, it’s too early to tell if these are real trends, and the presence of even more versions of Omicron in the state could push the numbers back up.

Coloradans should assume there’s a good chance someone around them is contagious with the virus if they’re in a crowd, said Beth Carlton, associate professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Colorado School of Public Health.

With more people testing at home, it’s difficult to get an exact number of cases, but all data suggests the virus is widespread, she said.

“There are probably a significant number of people who are contagious,” she said.

The positivity rate, which is usually the first measure to signal a change when the virus takes a different trajectory, has plateaued in recent days, with the seven-day average hovering around 9.2%. However, it’s too early to know if that’s a sign of things to come, Carlton said.

Cases rose again, albeit not as sharply as in recent weeks. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 11,273 new infections in the week ended Sunday, up about 10% from the previous week.

Hospital admissions also rose again. The state health department Tuesday reported 166 people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, up from 144 a week earlier. Hospitalizations tend to lag behind the positivity rate and cases, so it would take a few weeks to see any changes.

Outbreaks increased for a fourth week, with almost all of the surge coming from nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. The number of long-term care facilities reporting outbreaks increased from 115 to 165. Outbreaks can grow faster at these facilities because they need to be tested frequently and reported to the state after only two connected cases. The threshold for most other settings is five cases.

Cases appear to be stagnating nationwide, but that masks regional differences. New infections appear to be falling in the Northeast but rising in parts of the South, according to data compiled by the New York Times.

It’s harder to predict what the virus might do now because both the BA.2.12.1 variant – which has taken over as the dominant variant nationwide this week – and the BA.4 and BA.5 variants are unsafe, as limited data suggests may be able to surpass BA.2.12.1, Carlton said. Data from the UK suggests that BA.4 and BA.5 may be better than earlier versions of omicron at infecting people who survived earlier versions of the virus, but it’s not clear how much better they are at it are, she said.

The rapid succession of new variants “creates enormous challenges in understanding what might happen next,” she said.

The most recent data in Colorado on May 8 showed that BA.2 was still found in about 57% of the samples sequenced, with BA.2.12.1 accounting for 39%, BA.4 about 3%, and BA.5 about 0, 3% However, modeling from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that BA.2.12.1 has likely taken the top spot over the past two weeks.

Communications from the state health department indicate that they are not counting on an extended plateau for infections. On Tuesday, the agency encouraged people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to consider using telemedicine to quickly find out if they should be on medication to reduce their risk of serious illness, and it will text messages starting Thursday about receiving second booster vaccinations.

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