COVID hospitalizations in Colorado are declining, but the virus remains widespread

The chances of encountering someone with COVID-19 in Colorado remain high, but the state is showing early signs that the tide could be turning.

Hospitalizations, the percentage of tests that come back positive and cases all fell in the week ended Sunday. While the number of contagious people in the state remains high, this wave may have peaked, said Beth Carlton, associate professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Colorado School of Public Health.

“The numbers are much more encouraging this week,” she said.

Colorado could have a relatively quiet summer, with the recent wave of infections providing some protection for the next few months, Carlton said. Or the pause could be brief as variants BA.4 and BA.5 become dominant. Much is still unknown about how well infection with BA.2.12.1, currently the most common variant in Colorado, protects against the two Ascendant variants, she said.

“In general, people with newer infections are better protected,” she said. “We’ve probably eloped through most of Colorado’s vulnerable population in the last few months.”

The latest data from June 5 shows that BA.4 and BA.5 were found in nearly 35% of virus samples sequenced in Colorado. BA.2.12.1 was found in just over half.

How much of a role vaccinating children under the age of 5 will play in reducing the number of people susceptible is unclear, Carlton said.

Hospital admissions for COVID-19 fell to 304 Tuesday from 323 a week earlier, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It was the first time since mid-April that the number of people being treated for COVID-19 has fallen.

The percentage of positive tests also dropped to about 11.2%. That’s down from about 12.7% two weeks ago, but still high enough to suggest a large number of infections could go undetected.

Cases fell for the first time since late March, although those numbers remain the shakiest indicator because so many people don’t report their home tests, Carlton said. The state reported 12,820 cases in the week ended Sunday, down 23% from the previous week but still about six times the level at the bottom earlier this spring.

Outbreaks were the outlier, rising to 575 for an eighth week. Most of the increase came from correctional facilities, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Deaths have not started to decrease, but they typically lag at least two weeks behind hospital admissions. In the first week of June, the state reported 53 deaths from COVID-19, the highest weekly total in three months. Data from the last few weeks are still incomplete due to late reports.

High vaccination rates and, to a lesser extent, immunity to previous infections prevented the death toll from rising almost as fast as infections, Carlton said. Nationwide, about 314 people die from COVID-19 every day — which is slightly higher than the average daily deaths from diabetes — but it’s nowhere near the death toll that would have been had so many people been infected in early 2020.

For now, wearing masks indoors is a good idea as the virus is still rampant, Carlton said. As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered 24 of Colorado’s 64 counties to be high-risk based on their cases and hospitalizations.

“Just because things are down doesn’t mean risk automatically goes to zero,” she said.

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