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State in 'precarious position' as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue upward trend

The state's positivity rate is nearing 10%. It's recommended that it be at 5% to control the virus spread, according to the World Health Organization.

COLORADO, USA — More than 1,500 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and the numbers are trending upward, putting the state on track to peak near at or maximum hospital capacity, according to the latest data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

"I wish I had better news to report on the hospitalization front, but as of this morning, we're now up to 1,526 people in Colorado hospitalized with COVID," said Incident Commander Scott Bookman. "We are not at that 1,847 peak that we saw last December. But on our current trajectory, we still do seem to be heading very much in that direction."

There are fewer available hospital beds than at any other point during the pandemic, according to Bookman. That's due to COVID-19 and illnesses.

"The overall trajectory in comparison to previous times really puts us in a precarious position," he said, while reiterating the 80% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated. "The burden of the unvaccinated on our health-care system is truly extraordinary."

While a majority of the people hospitalized have not been vaccinated, Bookman said those who are vaccinated can still do things to help reduce the hospitalization rate.

"I just will reiterate, you know, this is the time to get vaccinated, to get your booster. If you're feeling sick, you need to stay home, get tested, wait for your results," Bookman said. "And we should all be wearing masks right now, regardless of whether there's a mandate in place or not. This is a way to keep ourselves safe."

>> Video below: Full news conference: State health officials give update in COVID-19 fight

Additional hospital capacity

The state is working to add a capacity of about 500 hospital beds by mid-December. Those beds will be in existing facilities and will not be in so-called field hospitals.

"We are working with all of our skilled nursing providers to identify where they may have wings open so that we can add staffing there, and that's how we're going to get to that total of 500," Bookman said. "We feel that we're better suited to pursue beds in existing facilities."

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They're also working with federal officials to bring in two more FEMA teams in addition to the one team that's already on the ground in Pueblo. Some health-care systems are also bringing in staff from other states to help with increased demand here due to the surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Bookman said.

Positivity rate

Currently, the state's positivity rate for tests is "very high," according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. It's sitting at 9.53%.

Anything above 10% could be an indicator that not enough testing is being done and that only people likely to have COVID are getting tested. The World Health Organization recommended in May 2020 that the positivity rate should be 5% or lower to contain the virus.

The best time to get tested is about five to seven days after a known exposure, Herlihy said.

>Video above: Denver professor studying public health rebuts state's current COVID strategy

Boosters

Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order on Nov. 7 essentially making everyone over the age of 18 eligible for a booster if they're six months out from their Pfizer or Moderna shots or two months out from their Johnson & Johnson shot.

That is at odds with federal guidelines. Polis said they're working with providers to make sure they're on board with providing the booster to anyone, not just those who meet the federal criteria.

Monoclonal antibody treatments

The governor also touted monoclonal antibody treatments. Herlihy said patients receiving the treatments early on after becoming symptomatic could decrease peak hospitalizations by 150 to 300.

That could also reduce the risk of exceeding hospital capacity by 30%, she said.

Part of the problem is awareness about the treatment option, according to state leaders. 

"Our family physician wasn't familiar with how to get monoclonal antibody treatment," said Jill Lestor, who was treated with the antibodies along with her husband in July. "But fortunately for both of us, I had been advised by a UCHealth emergency room doctor with whom I work occasionally that if we or any of our peers contract COVID to contact UCHealth about MAB a monoclonal antibody treatment."

Lestor and her husband were fully vaccinated but still became sick and feared they might need to be hospitalized.

"The treatment was efficient and uneventful for us," she said. "We were able to recover faster and reduced our risk of complications."

Another issue regarding the treatment is referrals, and Polis said they've issued a standing order to allow the treatment without needing one.

The treatment works best for those who are symptomatic, but in the early stages of the virus so the state is also working to increase access to the treatment with mobile units.

Bookman said Wednesday that they're still working to scale up the availability of the treatment.

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