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Colorado likely weeks away from omicron peak, health officials say

State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said Colorado is approximately 18 days into its omicron surge, and expects cases to continue rising for several weeks.

DENVER — In an update Wednesday afternoon, state health officials said Colorado is likely weeks away from seeing the peak of the latest COVID-19 surge due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said the state is approximately 18 days into its omicron surge, and some areas experiencing surges have been peaking roughly 30 days into their surges.

"I anticipate it will be several more weeks into we see a clear peak in hospitalizations," Herlihy said. 

However, she presented data showing a wide range of possible outcomes.

Credit: CDPHE
A timeline comparing Colorado's omicron surge to other areas further along in their outbreaks.
Credit: CDPHE
A timeline comparing Colorado's omicron surge to other states further along in their outbreaks.

Herlihy said a key indicator is the seven-day positivity rate, which has consistently shown an increase ahead of surges in cases and hospitalizations, and a decrease ahead of case and hospitalization declines.

The positivity rate has been rising steeply, and the current rate of 25.19% indicates one in every four Coloradans who get tested are returning a positive test.

Credit: CDPHE
Chart showing Colorado's seven-day positivity rate since the COVID-19 pandemic began as of Jan. 5, 2022.

Hospitalizations are also beginning to increase again after a period of decline, but COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman said capacity has stabilized recently, with the state consistently averaging between 500 and 600 open beds in recent weeks.

Bookman said there is a range of outcomes possible in the coming weeks. While omicron hospitalizations seem to be less severe, he said they are still contributing to reduced hospital capacity.

The highly transmissible nature of omicron is also contributing to hospital staff shortages, because more health care workers are testing positive for omicron.

Herlihy said health officials are still trying to get a better understanding of the number of patients hospitalized because of the omicron variant, versus the number of patients hospitalized due to another issue while also testing positive for omicron.

> Watch the full briefing below:

RELATED: COVID hospitalizations among Colorado kids doubled in the past week

On Tuesday, CDPHE reported 5,186 new COVID cases, with a seven-day positivity rate of 24.14% and 1,292 people hospitalized for COVID-19.

The number of kids hospitalized with the virus has doubled in just the past week.

CDPHE said 58 children under age 17 were in hospitals across the state battling the virus (4.5% of total hospitalizations) as of Tuesday. Last week, that number was 25 pediatric patients (2.4% of total hospitalizations).

“Omicron is so much more transmissible than the delta variant that so many more children are getting exposed and infected,” Dr. Sam Dominguez, pediatric infectious disease physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said. “That results in an absolute more number of kids getting infected and admitted into the hospital.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said on Tuesday that the city and county were experiencing their biggest COVID-19 surge ever, and that omicron was creating concern about "razor-thin" capacity at hospitals.

RELATED: Denver's COVID case rate highest since pandemic began

Health officials urge people to get vaccinated and boosted. As of Tuesday, 78% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Colorado were unvaccinated.

> Watch: 9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli explains the different types of COVID tests

RELATED: Does the COVID case count really matter? Health experts weigh importance with omicron variant

RELATED: Many Colorado courts suspend jury trials due to COVID

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