While Colorado's COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalization rates are lower than most other states, officials said they continue to see a high level of the virus, particularly among unvaccinated individuals.
In a press conference Friday morning, Gov. Jared Polis provided a brief overview of the Colorado's status: 2,189 new cases of COVID with 902 hospitalizations. Of the 902, 17 are pediatric cases, he said, and the rest are adults. As of Friday morning, 7,560 people have died in Colorado with COVID-19, he said.
Of Coloradans 12 years old and up, 75% are vaccinated.
Polis said the state is waiting on details from President Joe Biden regarding Thursday's announcement that all U.S. employers with 100 or more employees must ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who are unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis.
He explained Biden's plan is not too different from the state's announcement in late July to ensure all 31,000 state employees are vaccinated or have twice weekly testing for COVID-19. In August, members of the State Board of Health also voted to require the COVID-19 vaccine for workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities in Colorado.
Polis said the federal plan will not be enforced or outlined by the state, but rather by the U.S. Department of Labor. He said he didn't have any other details to share on Friday, but expected to learn more soon and possibly Monday, when Biden visits Colorado.
But he urged Coloradans to not wait until their employer, governor or president tells them to get vaccinated.
"You should get vaccinated because it will protect you and your family," he said.
He used new visualization data to explain the impact of vaccinations in the state.
Polis said 894 people were hospitalized in Colorado as of Thursday and of those, 726 individuals were not fully vaccinated and 168 were fully vaccinated. Most of the latter are older or have pre-existing conditions. Vaccinated people who are hospitalized also have better outcomes and are in the hospital for less time, he said.
"We would not be anything close to hospital capacity or crisis or ICU limits if everybody was vaccinated," he said. "We'd have 200 people in the hospital instead of 900 in the hospital — well within the norms."
Some hospitals are getting close to their capacity limits, he said, which wouldn't be happening if more people were vaccinated.
He said the state has the lowest ICU availability rate since the start of the pandemic, in part due to unvaccinated people becoming infected and partially due to trauma cases, which increase this time of year.
"We can do this. We can end the pandemic, but we’re not going to end it by pretending that it’s already over when about 900 of our fellow Coloradans are still currently in the hospital and unvaccinated Coloradans are dying every day from the virus," Polis said.
Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, explained Colorado's case rates compared to the country's. She noted that Colorado has the 12th lowest rate of COVID-19 as of Friday morning.
She said the state has seen a recent decline in cases over the last couple of days, but it's not clear if that is a true trend or data aberration.
"Overall, we do see Colorado's case rates are below the national rate, and that is certainly good news," she said.
The highest current rate of disease is happening for school-aged children. The adult population — anybody 18 years old and up — is the second highest level, followed by the grouping of children 5 years old and younger, she explained.
Herlihy also compared hospitalization rates in Colorado to the United States as a whole.
In the state, officials are not seeing a decreasing or flattening trend, she said, but instead a steady increase in hospitalizations. Compared to the United States, the state has a lower overall hospitalization rate.
The mortality rate in the state remains lower than the U.S. rate overall, she said, but added that in the last couple of weeks, the state has seen a clear increasing trend in deaths.
She said 85% of recent COVID-related deaths in the state were unvaccinated individuals.
Based on the state's data, she said vaccinated people in Colorado are:
- 3.4 times less likely to become a COVID-19 case
- 3.7 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19
- 5.8 times less likely to die of COVID-19
CDPHE COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman said as of Friday morning, 902 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is the second-highest amount of COVID hospitalizations of any point in the pandemic.
"It has now eclipsed the first wave that we saw in the spring of 2020," he said.
The difference between the current wave and all previous ones is that Coloradans have returned to their normal lives, he explained. That means hospitals are seeing increases in patients experiencing an emergency unrelated to COVID-19, such as trauma, heart attacks and strokes.
"This is all coming together with the increase in COVID hospitalizations at this point to really stress our healthcare system," he said. "As of yesterday, we dipped below 200 ICU beds available in our state."
In response, hospitals across the state are beginning to put their surge plans into place and are opening up additional ICU beds and canceling scheduled surgeries.
"The burden of the unvaccinated on our hospitals is profound and it impacts all Coloradans because those who are vaccinated will struggle to get the same level of care in the hospital that they would get if there were fewer COVID hospitalizations," Bookman said.
Click here to learn more about COVID-19 in Colorado.