New COVID-19 infections in Colorado rose for the second straight week and hospitalizations for the virus increased Monday, though it’s too early to know whether that’s the beginning of an upward trend that’s trailing the recent rise in cases.
As of Monday afternoon, 401 people were hospitalized across the state with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, a one-day increase of 25 and the highest level since March 1.
The number of people hospitalized for the virus has been at something of a plateau for the past few weeks, but does skips around — so one day’s numbers don’t necessarily say much. But new cases rose for a second week, and hospitalizations generally have followed cases up or down, after a one- or two-week delay.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 8,698 new coronavirus infections in the week ending Sunday, which was about 600 more than the previous week.
The statewide percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive hit 6% for the first time since late January, indicating that increased testing isn’t to blame for the rise in cases. A positivity rate above 5% raises concerns that there are infections not being identified through testing.
The metrics suggest an increase in spread, rather than some fluke in the numbers, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of occupational and environmental health at the Colorado School of Public Health. The increase is probably due to some combination of the state loosening its restrictions, people getting tired of taking precautions and more-contagious variants of the virus spreading, she said.
Experts disagree on whether the U.S. is seeing the start of a fourth wave, or isolated hotspots. Cases have been increasing in the Northeast and upper Midwest, and hospitalizations also have risen in some states.
One bit of good news is that new cases and hospitalizations are decreasing for people over 65, who were the most likely to get seriously sick or die, Carlton said. That suggests vaccination is having an effect, she said.
The odds of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 increase with every decade of life, so it’s unlikely the state would exceed hospital capacity after vaccinating significant numbers of seniors, Carlton said. Still, it’s likely hospitalizations will go up at least a small amount, because younger people can still get severely sick, she said.
“We are expecting to see an increase in hospitalizations,” she said. “We don’t expect to have a full-blown crisis.”
The percentage of hospitalizations that involve someone younger than 50 has increased over the last month, though the change is small enough that it’s difficult to be sure it’s a trend.
UCHealth has seen the number of 20- to 30-year-olds seeking treatment for COVID-19 at a hospital or outpatient facility double since March. Overall hospitalizations have remained steady at the health system, but there are more younger people hospitalized than there were a year ago, said Dr. Richard Zane, chief innovation officer at UCHealth.
Younger people are less likely to be vaccinated, and may not be taking as many precautions as those who are older, Zane said. The spread of more-contagious variants probably also has something to do with the increase in younger people seeking care, but it’s not clear if the variants are making them sicker, he said.
“It’s just too early to tell,” he said.
People who haven’t yet been vaccinated need to keep wearing their masks in indoor public places, avoid crowded buildings and limit their close contacts, Carlton said.
“If you’re not yet vaccinated, be careful,” she said.
Since March 2020, 468,988 people in Colorado have tested positive for COVID-19. So far, 25,774 have been hospitalized and 6,262 have died of the virus.
Denver Post staff writer Jessica Seaman contributed to this report.
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