COVID-19 cases in Colorado are on the rise again, but the trajectory of hospitalization is still unclear

New COVID-19 infections in Colorado rose for the second week in a row and hospitalizations for the virus rose on Monday, though it’s too early to tell if that’s the start of an upward trend that follows the recent surge in cases.

As of Monday afternoon, 401 people were hospitalized statewide with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, a one-day increase from 25 and the highest level since March 1.

The number of people hospitalized for the virus has stagnated in recent weeks, but it is jumping, so the numbers for one day do not necessarily say much. But new cases spiked over a second week, and hospitalizations have generally followed cases up or down, after a delay of a week or two.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 8,698 new coronavirus infections in the week ending Sunday, which was about 600 more than the previous week.

The statewide percentage of COVID-19 tests that tested positive reached 6% for the first time since late January, indicating that increased testing is not to blame for the increase in cases. A positivity rate greater than 5% raises concerns that there are infections that are not identified by testing.

The metrics suggest an increase in spread, rather than a fluke in the numbers, said Beth Carlton, associate professor of occupational and environmental health at the Colorado School of Public Health. The increase is likely due to a combination of the state loosening its restrictions, people getting tired of taking precautions and more contagious variants of the spread of the virus, he said.

Experts disagree on whether the United States is seeing the start of a fourth wave or isolated hot spots. Cases have increased in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, and hospitalizations have also increased in some states.

The good news is that new cases and hospitalizations are declining among people 65 and older, who were the most likely to become seriously ill or die, Carlton said. That suggests the vaccination is having an effect, he said.

The odds of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 increase with each decade of life, so the state is unlikely to exceed hospital capacity after vaccinating significant numbers of older people, Carlton said. Still, hospitalizations are likely to increase by at least a small amount, because younger people can still get seriously ill, he said.

“We expect to see an increase in hospitalizations,” he said. “We don’t expect to have a full-blown crisis.”

The percentage of hospitalizations involving someone under the age of 50 has increased over the past month, although the change is so small that it’s hard to be sure it’s a trend.

UCHealth has seen the number of people in their 20s to 30s seeking treatment for COVID-19 in a hospital or outpatient facility double since March. Overall, hospitalizations have been stable in the healthcare system, but there are more young people hospitalized than a year ago, said Dr. Richard Zane, UCHealth’s director of innovation.

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