DENVER — Top Colorado health officials on Thursday released data projecting 2,000 or more COVID-19 deaths in Colorado by the end of the year, as holiday gatherings are expected to bring a stronger surge of cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks.
The death projections for the next month would nearly double Colorado's current toll. As of Thursday, 2,708 Coloradans had died due to COVID-19, and there were 3,193 deaths reported among COVID-19 cases.
The grim forecast — presented by Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, and Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist — came as health officials are still bracing for the impact of holiday gatherings over Thanksgiving. Herlihy said Colorado saw another spike in COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, but that the full impact of Thanksgiving gatherings is not expected to be reflected in the state data until early next week.
If Colorado's current transmission control of 71% is maintained — plus a 10% uptick in cases over the holidays — then around 2,500 more people could die of the virus by the end of the year, the data showed. If transmission control is upped to 80%, about 2,000 more people would die. And under a worse scenario of a reduction to 60% transmission control — plus a 30% surge in cases over the holidays — around 4,500 more people could die, the health officials said.
The death projections "look startlingly high," Samet said. "We hope they aren't played out."
Samet acknowledged that the data projections are "subject to uncertainty and trying to represent what could happen under assumptions of the models.
"Given the fact we've experienced rising cases and hospitalizations, there's no doubt the number of deaths will rise," Samet said. "I hope the numbers are over-estimates, but we are facing a number of deaths."
The modeling data Thursday showed that an estimated 1 in 40 Coloradans are currently infectious with COVID-19, higher than the 1-in-49 figure released last week. Hospitalizations in the last week have continued to increase, but on a more slower pace, the data showed.
The data also showed that an estimated 16.5% of all Coloradans have been infected with the coronavirus since the onset of the pandemic.
Colorado for weeks has maintained a COVID-19 positivity rate of around 11%-13%, well above the state's goal to remain below 5%.
The data Thursday showed how hospitalizations could rise over the next few weeks, if Colorado's current trend is maintained and contacts are increased over the holidays, as officials expect will happen.
The data emphasized what officials have warned for weeks: 10%-20% less social distancing could lead to hundreds of more hospitalizations and intensive-care demand, well into 2021.
Herlihy warned against Coloradans for Christmas with people outside of their household.
"I think it's quite possible with what we know right now that gatherings of multiple households for Christmas will be risky," Herlihy said. "I think that's unfortunately a reality, that we will probably not see a tremendous decrease [in COVID-19 transmission] between now and then."