DENVER, Colo. -- The numbers and graphs that fill the state’s COVID-19 data portal are determining how Coloradans live and what restrictions are in place to slow the spread of the virus.
Right now, that data shows coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are increasing rapidly in Colorado, and the experts behind the numbers say the state is at a critical moment.
“It’s the highest number we’ve seen since spring,” said Dr. Beth Carlton, a member of the state’s COVID-19 modeling team. “We could exceed the April peak and hospitalizations by mid-November or sooner.”
Carlton said if Colorado continues the current trajectory, the state could soon see an unprecedented number of people in the hospital with COVID-19.
She said the modeling team is watching two metrics closely: The number of people in the hospital and the state’s positivity rate, which jumped to 8.49% over the past seven days, meaning more than 8% of the people getting testing for COVID-19 are coming back positive. Colorado hasn’t seen a positivity rate that high since May.
“That’s really concerning,” said Carlton.
Experts want to see the positivity rate at or below 5%, which is when the virus is considered under control.
When asked if the state’s positivity rate is higher because the state is testing more people for the virus, Carlton said, “No. Actually, you’d expect the opposite.”
She points to CU Boulder as an example. There, when cases exploded on campus in September, a testing site had a 16% positivity rate. Carlton said that number went down as more people were able to get tested.
“So, the more testing we do, the more...— the better we can identify people who are positive,” she said.
Hospitals are seeing more patients with COVID-19
Dr. Richard Zane is on the front lines of Colorado’s COVID-19 pandemic. He’s the Head of Emergency Medicine at UCHealth.
“We’re seeing what everybody is seeing, which is an increase in the number of patients who are presenting with symptoms consistent with COVID-19,” he said.
University of Colorado Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the state, shared new video inside its COVID-19 ICU Unit Monday. The video was taken on Oct. 30 by the hospital as journalists are not permitted in this area of the hospital due to the pandemic.
It shows nurses and doctors clad in hazmat suits, busy treating dozens of patients who are filling the hospitals ICU beds with COVID-19 symptoms.
“I think it’s incredibly important that we are really deliberate about what the next steps are and how we can mitigate the escalation of cases,” Zane said.
Zane said University of Colorado Hospital has not yet run out of capacity, and the data shows doctors are getting better at treating the virus which has led to fewer deaths than during the April peak in COVID-19 cases.
Despite the lower death rate, Zane said the good news is not a reason for people to let their guard down.
“Be patient, be exceptionally deliberate, be really careful. Mask whenever possible, social distance,” he said. “We will get through this. It’s just not flicking a switch and it’s not instant pudding.”