Colorado hospitalizations due to COVID-19 rising faster than expected
The Colorado health department is issuing dire warnings that hospitalizations from COVID-19 are rising faster than predicted. At the rate they're going, the state could run out of intensive care beds in late December or sooner.
Colorado and Larimer County have reached the greatest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began, exceeding the peak in April. If the curve is not bent and if contacts increase over Thanksgiving, the state could surpass ICU capacity by mid-December, the state health department warned Friday, citing updated modeling.
Larimer County hospitals are currently treating 65 COVID-19 patients, according to the county's online COVID-19 dashboard. Eleven new COVID-19 patients were admitted Nov. 2 alone. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have never been this high, according to the county's dashboard.
Kelly Tracer, a UCHealth spokesperson, said the entire system is caring for about 230 patients with either a confirmed COVID-19 infection or a pending test result. In their Northern Colorado hospitals, which includes Poudre Valley Hospital, Medical Center of the Rockies and the Greeley Hospital, UCHealth is caring for 55 such patients.
Keeping hospitals at or below demand capacity will require "substantial and rapid action" to prevent transmission, the state said in a press release issued Friday.
The sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations prompted the state health department to recommend people only interact with others in their own households, avoid gatherings, stay home when sick, wash their hands, physically distance themselves and wear a mask.
Larimer County's numbers also forced the health department on Friday to move to tighter rules to promote social distancing. The county is now on Safer at Home Level 2, which is marked yellow on the state's COVID-19 dial.
The increase in Larimer County cases and the county's move to the stricter level prompted Poudre River Library District to return to a curbside model for all library sites as of Monday. Previously, the library district had allowed some in-person services.
The COVID-19 14-day incidence rate was 356 per 100,000 people on Friday, according to county health department. The 14-day positivity rate is 6.6% and the county reported 18 new outbreaks at local businesses and organizations.
The state defines an outbreak as two or more positive tests within a 14-day window.
As of Friday, Larimer County has had 4,844 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 60 deaths attributed to the disease.
Most recently, COVID-19 claimed the lives of an 86-year-old Estes Park woman and 60-year-old Fort Collins woman, both of whom died Nov. 1.
If trends don't improve, the county could move to Safer at Home Level 3, which involves stricter regulations on gatherings of all kinds and a recommended switch to remote or hybrid school.
After that could come a stay-at-home order like March and April.
UCHealth's Tracer said the health system's surge plans allow them to expand their capacity, including ICU and medical/surgical beds, and it's likely to happen if the number of COVID-19 patients keeps increasing. Another tool the health system could implement is postponing scheduled, non-emergency surgeries.
"Although our numbers went down over the summer, our preparedness efforts never stopped," Tracer said in an email. "We learned a lot of best practices from the first surge in the spring. And we have been proactively planning for another potential surge in patients and implementing a number of measures to ensure adequate staffing and hospital capacity at all of our facilities."
She said next few weeks will depend on a lot of factors, "but mostly how seriously we all take the health orders and recommended physical distancing guidelines and hygiene practices. We do need everyone’s help to limit the spread of the disease. We urge everyone to take this increase in COVID-19 cases seriously."
McKee Medical Center, Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies combined have 43 ICU beds and another 37 critical care beds in specialty units such as cardiac care or neurology ICU that can be used as ICU beds, according to a Coloradoan analysis of Colorado Hospital Association data.
Both health systems have surge plans that allow them to quickly increase ICU capacity by reopening rooms used at the height of the pandemic in the spring and by converting single rooms to double rooms.
Among UCHealth's and Banner Health's five area hospitals in Larimer and Weld counties, there are 65 ICU beds and another 47 that could be used as intensive care rooms. There are a total of 840 hospital beds.
Northern Colorado had an alternative care site set up at The Ranch in case hospitals were overrun with with COVID-19 patients until early October when Gov. Jared Polis closed the facility.
It was one of five alternative care sites set up throughout the state, but the overflow need never materialized.
Lori Hodges, director of emergency management for Larimer County, said the Colorado Convention Center is still set up as an alternate care site and Larimer County patients would go to that facility if local hospitals fill up. "This would be the same if we had The Ranch site opened as they would want to use one center prior to opening multiple centers," Hodges said.
The Colorado Convention Center has the capacity to expand if needed.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at email@example.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.