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Polis to implement next steps as state hospital bed capacity hits all-time low

New modeling shows COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado will exceed the available hospital beds by the end of December.

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that the state will take new steps such as increasing the number of hospital beds and making indoor events safer as Colorado's hospital bed capacity has hit an all-time low.

This update came at a meeting of the Governor's Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee (GEEERC), at which state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said that COVID-19 cases have increased rapidly over the past few days.

"Right now, I think we'll see an increase in cases in the weeks to come," she said.

There are 759 hospital beds available in Colorado, and 1,426 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, Herlihy said. As people have returned to normal life, hospitals are seeing higher rates of patients for other reasons such as trauma and disease, she said.

RELATED: Fewer than 100 ICU beds available in Colorado as COVID-19 hospitalizations increase

“We’re at an all-time low for the number of hospital beds that are available in the state," Herlihy said.

Of those who are currently hospitalized, 79% of them are unvaccinated, she said, adding that unvaccinated patients are 8.9 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19.

The maximum number of COVID-19 patients that Colorado hospitals can accommodate is about 2,000, and current models show that the state will exceed that number by late next month, she said.

> Watch the full meeting below: 

Dr. Bailey Fosdick is an associate professor in CSU's Department of Statistics. She's also part of the Colorado School of Public Health team that creates these COVID-19 models for state health officials.

"There's so much uncertainty," she said. "A couple weeks ago we were projecting that we're going to go back down. Now we're asking ourselves, how does waning immunity from natural infection and vaccines, depending if you got a booster, what vaccine you got – all those things are coming into play here, and that’s where it gets complicated."

Fosdick said the modeling team is able to create Colorado-specific predictions, which helps state leaders here come up with pandemic response plans.

"We're trying to get an idea of – are we continuing to go up? If so even, three weeks out, or a couple months out," she said.

She said predicting a "peak" is difficult. Other variables that could affect what happens in the coming weeks: children ages 5-11 are now getting vaccinated, and more people are expected to gather for the holidays this year compared to last year.

Vaccine booster shots are an important strategy for flattening the curve, Herlihy said. The state has opened up booster shots to everyone over the age of 18.

RELATED: Top Colorado doctor says everyone eligible should get COVID-19 booster due to 'significant wave of disease spread'

According to models that Herlihy presented:

  • If the current rate of adults receiving booster shots remains unchanged, the state will hit 2,258 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Jan. 1.
  • If the state doubles the booster rate, hospitalizations will peak at 2,156 on Dec. 24.
  • If 75% of people 18 and older get a booster in the next month, hospitalizations will peak at 2,082 on Dec. 20.

Polis said that increasing the rate of booster shots is one of five steps that the state will take in coming weeks to minimize the peak in hospitalization numbers.

He said he plans to issue an executive order soon that will list Colorado as a high-risk institution, meaning everyone who lives in the state will be considered at high-risk of COVID-19 and those over 18 years old can receive a booster shot if eligible.

According to the governor, the other steps are:

  • Expanding hospital capacity with a target of 500 new beds by the time hospitalizations peak, achieved by activating floors that have closed or repurposing other areas,
  • Making indoor events safer,
  • Enhancing the health-care workforce by bringing in retired and out-of-state nurses and temporarily expanding practices, without sacrificing care, and
  • Expanding the use of monoclonal treatment.

"This is the playbook to make sure we don't exceed hospital capacity," Polis said.

He cited Ball Arena as an example of increasing the safety of indoor events. Event-goers at the venue who aren't fully vaccinated have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to an event. Also, anyone over 2 years old must wear a mask at all times, regardless of vaccination status.

RELATED: 2 Denver venues to require proof of vaccination

"We can't afford super-spreader events," Polis said, adding that the state is working with cities and venues to expand indoor safety protocols.

Polis said he plans to go into more detail on expanding the use of monoclonal antibody treatments at his news conference on Friday.

The state could see 200 to 400 fewer hospitalizations over the next few weeks with an aggressive use of monoclonal treatments when taken in the first week of infection, Herlihy said.

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