Colorado health officials warn of yet another wave of infections as new coronavirus cases in the state reach levels not seen since January and counties begin to ease viral restrictions.
The state reports an average of 1,661 new cases per day, up 18% in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations increased by 19% over the same period. Deaths from the virus, which tend to lag behind infections for several weeks, have increased slightly.
“We are seeing what appears to be the start of a fourth wave of Covid-19 in Colorado,” Scott Bookman, the state’s Covid-19 incident commander, said at a press briefing Thursday. He urged people to remain vigilant to get tested, as more of the state’s population is getting vaccinated.
As in many parts of the country where the number of cases is increasing, health officials say this increase has been in part fueled by the spread of more contagious variants of the virus, particularly the B.1.1.7 variant found for the virus. first time in Britain. This variant is estimated to be around 60% more contagious and 67% deadlier than the original version. B.1.1.7 is now the most common source of new coronavirus cases in the United States, and tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7 and a California variant, CAL.20C, now accounts for more than half of all new coronavirus cases in Colorado.
Even as cases mount, the state on Friday ended its “numbering system” which required counties to impose capacity limits on restaurants, offices and gyms, based on the number of cases, percentages of tests positive and hospitalizations in these areas. The change transferred control of pandemic regulations to local counties, raising concerns from some public health experts that the move could lead to an increase in cases and hospitalizations. Several counties with an increase in cases and hospitalizations, such as El Paso and Douglas counties, have said they do not plan to impose restrictions beyond those prescribed by the state.
The state still demands that counties comply with its mask mandate – which will remain in place until May 2 – and with limits on mass gatherings inside.
“I am concerned that in the absence of policies and behaviors to slow transmission,” said Elizabeth Carlton, associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, “we will continue to see an increase in hospitalizations related to Covid-19 in people who have not yet been vaccinated. “
“It worries me,” said Dr. Bill Burman, director of Denver Public Health, of counties choosing to be more lax with the restrictions. Denver relaxed some regulations on Friday, but maintained some restrictions, such as capacity limits for bars, offices and retail stores.
An analysis released this month and conducted by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health found that delaying policy changes, state or local, until mid-May “would avoid a big number of deaths and hospitalizations ”. Mobility in the state is also at its highest level since the start of the pandemic, according to the report.
State officials defended the change last week, pointing to the relatively low number of hospitalizations and deaths compared to peaks seen in December. Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said in a press briefing Tuesday that he was confident counties could take greater responsibility, but urged people to be cautious.
“I think the number of cases and hospitalizations will unfortunately continue to increase before they decrease,” Polis said, adding that he hoped it would be a small spike as more and more people did. vaccinate.
About 41% of the state’s population has received at least one vaccine against Covid-19 and 25% have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State officials said they would continue to monitor hospitalization levels. Under the governor’s public health order, the state could require counties to put in place additional restrictions if their residents’ hospitalizations threatened to exceed 85% of the hospital’s capacity.