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Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at the governor's mansion in downtown Denver on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in Colorado, with Gov. Jared Polis warning on Tuesday that the number of people currently hospitalized is equivalent to nearly a quarter of the state’s intensive-care unit bed capacity. 

Polis, at a briefing with reporters at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver, said that hospitalizations because of COVID-19 have reached 417.

State health officials said not all of those patients are in intensive-care beds, of which Colorado has about 1,800 total, including ones that are needed for people suffering from other ailments and injuries. But the statistic shows the potential burden on the health care system should those people become more ill and should more people require hospitalization because of the disease.

The governor said the trend is worrisome because Colorado’s health care system could eventually be overwhelmed if it continues. 


The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

  • MAP: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
  • TESTINGHere’s where to find a community testing site. The state is now encouraging anyone with symptoms to get tested.
  • VACCINE HOTLINE: Get up-to-date information.


“The modeling data continues to be alarming if we don’t make a change,” Polis said. 

Colorado’s seven-day average of new coronavirus cases — at just under 1,000 — has eclipsed anything the state has seen since the start of the pandemic. 

While there is more testing happening now than at any time during Colorado’s battle with the disease, the state’s test positivity rate is above 5%, indicating the virus is spreading at an alarming rate and it’s not just that more cases are being identified. Also, hospitalizations, at 417, are at their highest level since May 23 and have been rising over the past five weeks.

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s top epidemiologist, said the increase in cases and hospitalization is “rapid.”

Herlihy said if the situation doesn’t change in Colorado, the state could by mid-November exceed its record peak of coronavirus hospitalizations — 888 — set in the spring.

Currently, Colorado’s estimated “R-naught” value, a measurement of how many people each COVID-19 patient spreads the disease to, is above 1.5, meaning that each person infected is spreading coronavirus to 1.5 other people. And this translates to exponential growth in cases.

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s state epidemiologist, speaks to reporters at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver on Monday, April 20, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“At this high level … we continue to expect hospitalizations to grow at a faster and faster rate,” Herlihy said.

Herlihy said the state estimated social distancing right now in Colorado to be at about 66%. It needs to be at about 75% to prevent hospitals from being overrun.

“Stay at home when you are sick. Wear a mask. Physically distance. Avoid gatherings. And wash your hands,” Herlihy said. “The more we do, the more we protect ourselves, our families and our community.”

A look at Colorado’s seven-day average of coronavirus cases. (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment)

Polis on Tuesday announced a new ad campaign, called “Step Up, Colorado,” encouraging Coloradans to wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines. He declined to speculate on when — or whether — he may take statewide action to slow the spread of the disease, instead making it clear that he sees a local approach as the remedy for Colorado’s increasing cases and hospitalizations.

“It’s acting to contain the virus where it is at a moment in time,” he said. “… There’s different measures at different times in different places depending on the conditions.”

Polis pointed to Boulder County’s success last month at quashing an outbreak of COVID-19 tied to the University of Colorado.

The current spike in cases, however, is being driven by a number of counties simultaneously, including Denver, Arapahoe, Adams, Pueblo and Mesa counties. In fact, the majority of Colorado’s 64 counties have reported a “very high” incidence of coronavirus over the past two weeks of more than 100 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people.

Updated at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020: This story has been updated to reflect that Gov. Jared Polis was referencing Colorado’s intensive-care bed capacity.

Updated at 6:10 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020: This story has been updated to correct inaccurate information from a source. Not all of the 417 people currently hospitalized in Colorado are in an intensive-care bed.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...