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Colorado has fewer than 200 ICU beds available, surge plans going into effect

Health officials said Friday that the 25% of eligible Coloradoans who are unvaccinated continue to drive the pandemic in the state.

DENVER — Colorado has dropped below 200 ICU beds, and hospitals are getting their COVID-19 surge plans ready. 

Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) provided an update Friday on Colorado's recovery efforts along with COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman and state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.

As of Friday, there were 902 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state – which is the second-highest peak so far of COVID-19 patients of any wave of the pandemic.

Bookman said hospitalizations had eclipsed the number from the first wave in the spring of 2020.

"The difference between this wave and all past waves is that Coloradans have returned to their normal lives," Bookman said. "Those who have been vaccinated have been given the opportunity to go out and live their lives. What comes with that is additional cases of trauma, additional heart attacks, additional strokes – we have seen people who have delayed receiving care over the course of the pandemic because they were afraid to go to their doctor. And this is all coming together with the increase in COVID hospitalizations at this point to really stress our health care system."

Only 197 ICU beds were available as of Thursday, Bookman said.

As a result, hospitals are beginning to put in place their COVID surge plans, which include opening additional ICU beds, canceling scheduled surgeries and even closing some clinics to increase hospital staffing levels.

"The burden of the unvaccinated on our hospitals is profound and impacts all Coloradans because those who are vaccinated will struggle to get the same level of care in the hospital that they would get if there were fewer COVID hospitalizations," Bookman said.

In other words, for those needing medical care not related to the virus, they may struggle to get the help they need as a result of unvaccinated patients taking up hospital beds.

Herlihy said Colorado had seen a decline in COVID-19 cases in the last few days. However, she cautioned that there could be a delay in the case reporting following the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Colorado's COVID-19 case data remains lower than the national average, according to Herlihy. Colorado's seven-day average is currently the 12th lowest in the United States.

Colorado's hospitals report that 81% of those hospitalized in the state are unvaccinated and 85% of recent COVID deaths were unvaccinated, said Herlihy.

Polis said Friday that 75% of all those 12 and older in Colorado have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Credit: 9NEWS

On Thursday, President Joe Biden ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations.

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden also requires vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

Biden announced the new requirements as part of a new “action plan” to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots.

More than 177 million Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus but confirmed cases have shot up in recent weeks to an average of about 140,000 per day with on average about 1,000 deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us," he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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