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Colorado faces uncertainty as COVID cases plateau

Officials with the state's department of health said cases and hospitalizations entered a plateau following the latest spike, and could either increase or decrease.

DENVER — Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) said COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are currently plateauing and could either increase or decrease in the coming weeks and months. 

State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said that case numbers have been going up and down the past two weeks, and while there is a more clear downward trend in recent days, there could be another increase as people move inside for the fall and winter months.

When reviewing 7-day case rates among age groups, Herlihy said they are highest among children ages 6 to 11, who are not yet eligible for a COVID vaccine, followed by the 12 to 18 age range. The 18+ population has the next lowest rate, and the lowest is the 0 to 5 age range.

Herlihy said pediatric case rates among school-age children (6 to 17) are showing a lot of variation between counties.

Among the state's 10 largest counties Weld, El Paso and Larimer have much higher rates of transmission compared to the other seven counties.

Credit: CDPHE

Herlihy said those case rates correlate with the vaccination rates in those counties, as those with lower rates are seeing increased transmission among vaccine-eligible children.

Credit: CDPHE


Herlihy also presented data that shows schools districts that require masks inside have lower case rates, compared to school districts that are not requiring masks.

Credit: CDPHE


COVID-19 Incident Commander Scott Bookman said that hospitalizations have been fluctuating between 875 and 900 cases in recent days, and that the vast majority are unvaccinated.

Specifically, 702 unvaccinated patients are currently hospitalized, compared to 175 who are vaccinated as of Sept. 22.

"Our hospitalizations are a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point," Bookman said.

With 83% of ICU beds in use as of Sep. 23, Bookman also said that there is still a solid supply of hospital and ICU beds currently available, and CDPHE is working with hospitals to avoid reaching capacity limits.

RELATED: Colorado among 10 states with lowest COVID infection rate, governor orders more tests

Gov. Jared Polis said Colorado continues to rank among the 10 states with the lowest infection rate during an update on Colorado's response to the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday.

Herlihy said Tuesday that some COVID-19 metrics have been going up and down recently, but overall the state is seeing a plateau to slight decreasing trend.

Herlihy said that there has also been some fluctuation in the data due to a likely increase in social gatherings during Labor Day weekend. However, she also cautioned that metrics could increase as people move indoors more often during the colder months.

Hospitalization rates are beginning to level out and has become a clear trend over the past week, Herlihy said. As of Sep. 21, she said there are 876 COVID patients hospitalized, a decrease of 45 from the same time last week.

Herlihy did note that hospitalizations and ICU bed utilization are higher in northern Colorado, but also said that could be impacted by Wyoming residents being hospitalized in that area where case rates are much higher. She also noted that Larimer County's hospital admissions are slightly higher and Weld County's admissions are much higher compared to the state.

> Video above: Northern Colorado hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients.

In an effort to stay on top of COVID-19 rates in the state, Polis said the state is ordering two million BinaxNOW rapid at-home tests that are free upon request.

"We know that testing is one of the key areas to keep people safe," Polis said. "The sooner that someone knows that they have COVID and are contagious, the sooner they can take the steps to self-isolate, protecting even their close family from contracting the deadly virus."

Colorado residents can sign up for free at-home tests on the state's website. Once you submit an application for the tests, you should get an e-mail to complete the order process.

CDPHE said they are reviewing all requests that come through the online enrollment form to make sure each person is eligible. Once a request is approved, the e-mail is sent. Coloradans should expect the e-mail within one to two weeks of submitting the form online. Only then can they order the tests through the online portal.

RELATED: As the state’s ICU beds reach capacity, Summit County and the surrounding region see lower COVID-19 hospitalizations

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