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Coronavirus

It’s time for Coloradans to think about COVID again. Here are 5 things to know.

Infections are still rising in Colorado thanks to hyper-transmissible variants, but the outlook is not too bleak

Boxes of BinaxNow home COVID-19 tests made by Abbott are shown for sale Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at a CVS store in Lakewood, Wash., south of Seattle. After weeks of shortages, retailers like CVS say they now have ample supplies of rapid COVID-19 test kits, but experts are bracing to see whether it will be enough as Americans gather for Thanksgiving and new outbreaks spark across the Northern and Western states. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just in time for the season of graduation parties and backyard cookouts, the slow rise in Colorado’s COVID cases over the past two months has begun to pick up pace.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

State health officials are predicting more infections and more hospitalizations to come for at least a few more weeks. But the outlook isn’t as grim as it might have been earlier in the pandemic.

Here are five things to know about Colorado’s COVID trends right now.

COVID cases are still rising

New COVID infections began rising about two months ago. And they are still going.

Colorado is now up to reporting around 1,500 new cases per day. That’s the most the state has seen since February, and infections appear to be gaining some steam.

This chart, taken from a presentation on May 19, 2022, by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, shows the increase in COVID-19 cases during the spring of 2022. (Screenshot by John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

Daily average infection counts have grown by 1,200 cases since infections first started rising in late-March. The first 600 cases of that took more than a month, but the state added the second 600 cases to its tally in only about two weeks.

Big picture, though, the daily numbers are still relatively modest. They are about half of what Colorado saw during the peak of the wave caused by the delta variant, and one-tenth of what Colorado saw during the omicron variant surge this past winter.

This chart, produced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, shows case trends over the course of the entire COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado. Data are current as of May 19, 2022. (Provided by CDPHE)

The new cases are believed to mostly come from two hyper-transmissible subvariants of omicron, one dubbed BA.2 and the other dubbed BA.2.12.1. Combined, they account for an estimated 97% of all cases in the state.

There’s probably a lot more infections that the state doesn’t know about

Since rapid at-home testing is so widespread now, it’s likely there’s a bunch of infections not getting reported to the state.

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, acknowledged this during a call with reporters on Thursday, but also added, “We’ve actually been undercounting cases throughout the pandemic.” Early on, for instance, a lack of testing meant the state likely missed many cases in its counts, and the percentage of infections being captured in state data has swung up and down during various surges.

Herlihy said this is why health officials look at plenty of different data sources — wastewater sampling, the percentage of tests coming back positive, visits to the emergency room or to primary care doctors. They all indicate the same thing right now: the prevalence of infections is growing.

“There’s been some variability, but that is why we continue to use multiple sources of information to determine if we are seeing increases or decreases,” Herlihy said.

For the record, even if you test positive at home, the state would like you to report it. You can do so via this website.

Also, it’s a good idea to reach out to your doctor if you find out you have COVID. They may be able to prescribe you an antiviral drug like Paxlovid to ease your infection.

Hospitalizations are rising — but there’s a catch

Another one of those data sources is hospitalizations, but this number doesn’t quite reveal what it once did.

Colorado this week reported 144 people in the hospital with COVID. That is 28 more than last week, but it still represents the lowest number since the summer of 2020.

There’s also a catch. Herlihy said Thursday that about 40% of the people captured in CDPHE’s hospitalization data have COVID but are in the hospital for other reasons. This is much higher than during most of the pandemic, though it is consistent with what the state saw during the first omicron wave this winter.

Colorado’s intensive care hospital units are 85% full. But, according to federal data, only about 2% of the state’s ICU beds are being used for COVID patients.

The best guess is we still have another few more weeks of this

The Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group last week released its best-estimate projections for when the current wave might crest. In their analysis, it depends on how good the current omicron variants, especially BA.2.12.1, are at getting around the immunity gained from a prior omicron infection.

If they are really good at immune escape, then the modelers estimate Colorado will peak with about 800 hospitalizations in mid-June. If they are less sneaky, the modelers estimate hospitalizations will peak around 500 in late-June.

This chart, taken from a report published May 12, 2022, by the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group, shows the modeling team’s projections for two scenarios for COVID hospitalizations during the summer of 2022. Under the first scenario, shown in blue, the omicron BA.2.12.1 variant, which is becoming dominant in the state, shows low ability to evade immunity gained during a previous omicron infection. Under the second scenario, shown in orange, the variant has a high ability to evade previous omicron immunity. (Screenshot by John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

Either of those figures are enough to add some extra strain to the state’s hospital capacity, said Scott Bookman, CDPHE’s COVID-19 incident commander.

“When we see an increase in cases and an increase in hospitalizations, we just tend to see a generalized stress on the system,” Bookman said.

Treating COVID patients requires more resources and more care to make sure health care workers don’t get sick themselves or spread the contagion. But, even at the high end, hospitalizations would peak below many previous waves, including COVID’s initial surge in the state back in the spring of 2020.

You can now get more free at-home tests

The federal government had so much fun shipping out free COVID tests to Americans everywhere that it has opened up its rapid at-home testing program for a third round. You can now click on over to COVIDTests.gov to order up another eight tests to be delivered right to your doorstep by the U.S. Postal Service.

Bookman said having a good supply of at-home tests, to be deployed when you have COVID-like symptoms or after you’ve had an exposure, is just part of life now. (The tests do expire, but federal regulators have extended the expiration date beyond what may be printed on the box.)

“This virus is here to stay,” he said, “and this is how we’re going to live with it.”



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