DENVER — Even though roughly 80% of those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine have received at least one dose, Colorado now has the fifth-highest infection rate in the country.
As of Tuesday, there were 1,254 people in the hospital with COVID-19 and about 80% of them have not been vaccinated, according to Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). One in 51 people in Colorado are currently contagious with the virus, he said.
"That means if you are unvaccinated a regular trip to the grocery store, a night out to dinner are more dangerous than they have ever been at any point during this pandemic for you," Polis said. "The delta variant is brutally effective at seeking out the unvaccinated like a laser-guided missile."
Polis was joined at a briefing Tuesday by State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy and COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
While masking can help slow the transmission, Polis said, it's not a substitute for a vaccine.
"If you get the virus, whether you were wearing a mask or not it's just as deadly if you're unvaccinated," he said. "So I don't want unvaccinated Coloradans thinking that wearing a mask is somehow a substitute for getting vaccinated. First of all, it's less effective, the studies vary but it's about 50% effective in reducing transmission. Vaccines, upwards of 90%."
Watch the full briefing below:
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado are at their highest point since late 2020, when the vaccines weren't widely available. If things continue at the current rate, state health leaders predict a peak of about 1,500 hospitalizations in late November or early December.
If there's a 5% decrease in transmission control such as less masking, more gatherings, or people moving indoors as the weather gets cooler, they're predicting a peak of about 1,900.
"To put this in perspective based on the current numbers of beds we have available in Colorado plus the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19, we think that maximum capacity is probably around 2,000," said Herlihy. "That could certainly significantly hamper our healthcare system's ability to care for our most severely ill patients."
It's not entirely clear why Colorado is experiencing this spike now, but Herlihy said the trend is very similar to last year and suggested there might a seasonality to the virus as there is with many other respiratory illnesses.
9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli said it comes down to three factors. First, some people’s reluctance to get vaccinated.
"We know that those people are going to continue to be a reservoir for the virus to spread," said Kohli.
Second, the lack of restrictions in place today. And third, people’s need to get booster shots after getting vaccinated months ago, especially older folks who are more vulnerable to being hospitalized if they get sick.
"Compare what we are doing right now to what we were doing at this time last year," said Kohli. "There may be a component of waning immunity. Our antibodies go down after a little while."
On Sunday, Polis signed an executive order allowing CDPHE to order hospitals and freestanding emergency departments to stop admitting or transfer patients as capacities are threatened amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It comes as hospitals across the state struggle to treat an influx of patients caused by an increase in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious delta variant and people who have not been vaccinated. On Sunday, hospital capacity across the state was less than 10%.
The order applies to hospitals that have reached capacity, or are anticipated to reach capacity, and is intended to "ensure that Coloradans have adequate health care while protecting hospitals' ability to serve people with COVID-19 and other conditions."
The state is also pushing the monoclonal antibody treatment which can be effective at keeping people who have been infected with COVID-19 out of the hospital, but the treatment works best when patients are treated early on.
"This has to be given early in the course of infection when you are having mild to moderate symptoms," Polis said. "That's why we're trying to get the word out."
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