DENVER — Mayor Michael Hancock and public health leaders said Tuesday that the city and county are experiencing their biggest COVID-19 surge ever due to the highly contagious omicron variant.
Hancock said Denver's seven-day average case rate is the highest since the pandemic began, and the seven-day positivity rate of nearly 25% is equally concerning.
"That means one in four people getting tested are testing positive," Hancock said.
Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE), said that the current seven-day new case average of 1,782 is nearly double the previous peak of 913 in November 2020.
As a result, Hancock said, hospitalizations are trending upward again after a recent decline and that hospital capacity is razor-thin.
Both Hancock and McDonald urged residents to get vaccinated and boosted, pointing out that as of Tuesday, 78% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Colorado are unvaccinated.
"Here's the key, people who are vaccinated and become breakthrough cases are much, much less likely to wind up in the hospital." McDonald said. "Getting vaccinated turns what could be a deadly virus into something that's either asymptomatic or a mild cold."
McDonald also said fewer than 50% of COVID patients hospitalized in Denver are residents of the city and county, as hospitals across the state deal with capacity concerns.
Hospitals are concerned about staffing shortages as community spread is mirrored within their own staff too.
A Denver Health chart that shows COVID-positive employees by the week generally hovered under 40 cases a week throughout the pandemic.
Two weeks ago, they jumped to just under 80 cases. And last week, nearly 180 Denver Health employees tested positive.
“Well, I’m very concerned because we’re just seeing the uptick of these new cases due to the omicron variant only recently, and we do not appear to be plateauing yet," said Dr. Connie Price, an infectious disease doctor at Denver Health. "So I think we are in for a very tough two-three weeks."
Denver extended its mask order for public indoor spaces through Feb. 3 due to the recent COVID surge.
It's part of a regional effort with neighboring counties – including Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe counties – to keep or extend their public health orders requiring face coverings in indoor public settings.
Hancock said he tested positive for COVID on Saturday. The mayor tweeted that he is quarantining with mild symptoms and that the vaccine "was making a big difference."
"I'm grateful that I was fully vaccinated and had been boosted," he said. "As a result, and I truly believe this, my symptoms were mild, cold-like symptoms and they weren't too devastating. I'm grateful I was not hospitalized at anytime, and again I account that to the fact I was fully vaccinated."
> Watch the full briefing below:
Statewide, there were 1,167 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Jan. 3, and there were an average of 7,282 new cases of the virus per day over the past seven days.
Over the past week that data were collected, 91% of tested COVID-19 samples in Colorado were the omicron variant and 9% were the delta variant.
A total of 72.1% of Colorado's population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 65% are fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
> Watch: 9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli explains the different types of COVID tests
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