DENVER — Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, more Coloradans are contagious with COVID-19 than ever before, and the state is still on track to exceed intensive care capacity by mid-January, according to the latest data released by health officials Tuesday.
An estimated one in 41 Coloradans are contagious with coronavirus, up from one in 49 last week and a large increase from an estimated one in 110 in recent weeks.
The data released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment came in a news conference Tuesday, in which Gov. Jared Polis and state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy urged Coloradans to limit their gatherings for Thanksgiving.
The governor said he and his family will be having Thanksgiving alone, with their own household, and he encouraged other Coloradans to do the same to "make sure you have your family there for many Thanksgivings to come."
Herlihy said Colorado must increase transmission control of the virus by increasing social distancing and working to flatten the curve of hospitalizations to preserve ICU capacity.
Colorado has 1,711 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients in the hospital, according to the most recent data. Colorado this week also exceeded 200,000 cases of COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, 202,289 cases have been confirmed and 2,456 people have died due to COVID-19. On Monday, Coloradao reported 3,689 new cases of the virus.
Currently, Colorado is seeing around 65% transmission control of the virus, Herlihy said. If the state can increase that control to around 80% — through social distancing and wearing masks — thousands of cases and deaths can be prevented and the state's hospital capacity can be preserved, Herlihy said.
On the flip side, if transmission control decreases through holiday gatherings, the state could exceed ICU capacity sometime in December, according to the state modeling data. The state's current trajectory could also lead to 6,600 total deaths through the end of the year, Herlihy said.
Polis said "our north star" continues to be the possibility of some Coloradans — hospital workers and other first responders — receiving the COVID-19 vaccine within weeks. The state would then distribute the vaccine to other high-risk people, upon availability.
Polis on Tuesday also announced the formation of a special task force on how students can return to in-person learning. Many school districts, including the state's largest in Denver, have moved to fully-remote classes.
"Frankly, we can't let the future of our kids become another casualty to this pandemic," Polis said.
Denver and more than a dozen other Colorado counties were moved to "Level Red" on the state's COVID-19 dial last week, bringing with it a ban on indoor dining and other restrictions. The state created a "Level Purple" as the most extreme level on the dial, though no counties are there yet.