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Nearly 90% ICU beds full in Colorado

Colorado health experts said this most recent wave of hospitalizations is different from the one seen last fall and winter.

DENVER — Colorado is seeing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations among all age groups as ICU bed capacity across the state nears 90%.

“Earlier this week, we jumped to over 1,000 hospitalizations for COVID in our state,” Gov. Jared Polis said during a Thursday COVID-19 update alongside State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman.

Polis called the latest hospital data a “wake up call” and urged anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to do so. The last day to get fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine before the Thanksgiving holiday is Thursday. 

Of the 1,130 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 right now, Polis said 893 of them are unvaccinated. The average age for a vaccinated person hospitalized with COVID is 73, compared to an average age of 57 for unvaccinated patients. 

COVID-19-related hospitalization rates are increasing more rapidly among older age groups, specifically the 70+ population, Herlihy said. Health officials believe part of the trend has to do with waning vaccine immunity that older individuals are more susceptible to, and reemphasized the importance of booster shots for protecting those at higher risk. 

“As of today, with the number of hospitalizations that we have, we are at almost 90% of our ICU beds occupied in the state of Colorado,” Bookman said. “That means that we have approximately 120 ICU beds available across the entire state.”

Polis noted three areas his administration plans to focus on in the coming weeks:

  • Accelerating the rate of Coloradans getting their first and second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Getting a booster dose to everyone who was vaccinated more than six months ago with Pfizer and Moderna, or two months ago with Johnson & Johnson.
  • Successful vaccination program rollout for those 5-11 years old.

RELATED: Colorado prepares distribution plan ahead of vaccination approval for children 5 to 11

CDPHE recommends Coloradans get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to gatherings this holiday season.

People are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after the final dose of their primary vaccine series. According to CDPHE, vaccinations are the best way for Coloradans to protect themselves, their families and their communities while celebrating holidays.

Dr. Michelle Barron, Senior Medical Director of Infection Prevention at UCHealth, said Thursday that this most recent wave of hospitalizations is different from the one seen last fall and winter. 

"Now we still have a significant number of COVID patients -- more than we would have anticipated at this point, given that we have really great vaccines available -- but we also have everybody else that needs care. And so that combination is really putting a strain, I think, on all hospitals at this time," she said. "Because if you think back to even April, we were really limited as to who else was coming into the hospital. So much of our care because of sheer numbers was just COVID. And I think in the last -- since COVID has started, we've been trying very hard to catch up on all the patients that needed care for other things, whether it was surgeries or procedures."

A similar message came from Cara Welch, Director of Communications for the Colorado Hospital Association.

"There is a lot of COVID and that continues to go up. But we're also seeing a lot of respiratory viruses," Welch said. "We're seeing trauma season still going on. And then we're also seeing a lot of people presenting in our hospitals in very acute conditions that maybe didn't seek preventive care or didn't take care of their regular health needs throughout the rest of the COVID pandemic. And now they're coming to our hospitals very sick and needing critical care."

Both Barron and Welch said flu season around the corner has some hospitals worried, and encourage people to get their flu vaccine.

Pfizer announced Thursday morning that data from its Phase 3 trial found the booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine was highly effective in protecting against the coronavirus, including the delta variant.

The company said its trial included more than 10,000 individuals and found the Pfizer-BioNTech booster showed a vaccine efficacy of 95.6% when compared to those who did not receive a booster.

Pfizer said booster shots were administered approximately 11 months, on average, after trial participants received their second dose of the vaccine.

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