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As more vulnerable Coloradans get the vaccine, who is still in the hospital for COVID-19?

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado has stalled at around 300 for weeks.

DENVER — If you're also guilty of refreshing Chris Vanderveen's Twitter account for his 4 p.m. numbers update, you might have noticed that lately, Colorado's hospitalization numbers have just stayed ... flat. 

This is a key metric in the state's fight against COVID-19, since one of the main goals is not to overwhelm hospital systems with people fighting the virus. 

At the peak of the winter surge, there were nearly 2,000 novel coronavirus patients in Colorado hospitals. That number has dropped to around 320 – and has stayed around there in recent weeks. 

Age has been the biggest risk factor for COVID-19 hospitalization and death, but as of Monday, Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) said 79% of people over 70 has received a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as 71% of those 65-69 and 70% of people 60 to 64. 

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At this point, the state doesn't publicly provide numbers for how many people with a vaccine has been hospitalized, but did say the shot "significantly reduces the likelihood of serious illness and there is increasing evidence that vaccination prevents mild illness and reduces transmission." 

This leads to the question: what type of patients are currently being hospitalized for COVID-19 in Colorado? 

There is hospital-level data on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) website. As of Tuesday, the seven-day moving average of patients admitted to the hospital was at 52. That number has stayed more or less steady since early March, and peaked at 281 on Dec. 4. 

Credit: CDPHE

Broken down by demographics as of the week of March 21: 

- 8.09% of hospitalized patients were over 80 

- 33.82% were between 60 and 79 years old 

- 37.5% of hospitalized patients were between 40 and 59 years old 

- 16.91% were between 20 and 39 years old 

- 3.68% were between 0 and 19 years old 

Credit: CDPHE

At the height of the pandemic, more than 65% of the patients in the hospital were over 60. 

Since the winter peak, the proportion of patients who died at the hospital has also decreased, according to the chart below from CDPHE. 

CDPHE said patients spend an average of eight days in the hospital after getting admitted. 

Credit: CDPHE

The COVID-19 unit at the Sky Ridge Medical Center in Douglas County is much quieter now than it was in 2020. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric Lung said at the peak of the winter surge, up to 65 patients were in the unit. Now there is one COVID-19 patient in the ICU, and nine getting treatment on other floors. 

He said none of them have had one or two doses of the vaccine. The youngest of those patients is 38 years old, and the oldest is 92, with an average age of about 60. Many of them have underlying health conditions. 

The demographics of hospitalized patients differ from the case data. As of Monday, 40% of positive COVID-19 tests were from Coloradans between 20 and 40. 

The reason why hospitalizations have stayed flat isn't clear. In recent weeks, the number of COVID-19 new cases has also largely stalled at around 1,000 per day. 

To put that into context, the most cases the state has reported in a day was 6,783 on Nov. 12. Back in September, during a summer lull, the seven-day average of new cases was 283. 

Credit: CDPHE

There has not been an official explanation for why the numbers have stalled in Colorado. 

Earlier this week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of a potential fourth wave of COVID-19 in the U.S. 

Earlier this month, Colorado officials warned that more contagious COVID-19 variants could account for 30% of cases in the state, but these have not been directly attributed to the seeming plateau of cases and hospitalizations. 

Long said his hospital has been in around the 10-15 patient per day range for the past one to two months. He said this is because the state is still in the COVID-19 pandemic, and more vaccinations are needed to stave off the virus.  

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