Colorado’s COVID hospitalizations tick down, but “the pandemic is not over”

Colorado’s COVID-19 situation improved slightly compared to last week, but the head of the state’s school of public health it’s still too early to say the pandemic is over.

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state decreased slightly to 145 on Tuesday, from 159 a week earlier.

The number of cases also improved, though not by a large amount. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 4,303 new infections in the week ending Sunday, down from 4,619 the previous week. An average of 5.6% of tests came back positive over the last seven days, however, which was slightly higher than the 5.1% average a week earlier.

The number of outbreaks dropped to 214 on Wednesday, from 250 a week earlier. Schools aren’t included in the public data this year.

Wastewater sampling shows a roughly stable amount of virus circulation statewide, suggesting there’s no imminent danger of a spike, said Dr. Jon Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. As of Wednesday, four utilities showed increases in virus concentrations, 20 showed decreases and 27 had no significant change.

“All in all, considering we’ve gotten to the start of school, we’re doing OK,” he said. “That said, the pandemic is not over.”

President Joe Biden sparked a new round of discussion about what it means for the virus to become endemic when he said in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday that the pandemic was over. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease physician, pushed back lightly on Monday, saying an average of more than 400 deaths per day is too high for the virus to be deemed under control, though the pandemic is “heading in the right direction.”

To put that in perspective, if deaths continued to average 427 per day, as they have over the last week, would make COVID-19 the fifth largest cause of death, between strokes and chronic lower respiratory diseases. But it will likely rank higher in 2022, given sky-high mortality in the first months of the year.

There’s no specific threshold where a virus moves to endemicity, but in general, that’s a state where we know roughly how it’s going to behave, Samet said. The world isn’t quite there yet, since the virus keeps generating new variants with the potential to create another spike in cases and hospitalizations, he said.

“Hopefully we will settle into a stage where we are vaccinated enough that we won’t have these surges that create waves of death,” he said.

It’s not clear if any of the current variants have the potential to send transmission up again. Nationwide, about 85% of cases are still caused by the BA.5 variant, but BA.4.6 has increased its share to about 10%, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Colorado, BA.5 remained firmly on top as of Aug. 28, showing up in about 90% of samples with genetic sequencing data.

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Cases and hospitalizations continue to decrease overall, though they’ve started rising in parts of the Northeast and upper Midwest, according to data from The New York Times. As of Wednesday, 395 wastewater sites nationwide showed decreases in viral concentration in the last 15 days, and 305 showed increases, according to the CDC.

The best thing people can do to prepare for whatever is in store this winter is to get their COVID-19 booster and flu shot, Samet said. The new booster is meant to target BA.4 and BA.5.

“It’s something we do not just for ourselves, but for others,” he said.

Some pharmacies around the country have reported difficulty getting enough doses of Moderna’s updated booster, because one of its plants is still awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start shipping product. There’s no shortage of Pfizer doses. It’s possible that one brand could prove superior over time, but for now, there’s no apparent difference.

Some Denver-area CVS locations had same-day appointments available to receive the Moderna vaccine as of Wednesday, while others had openings for the Pfizer shot. Walgreens also has appointments available, though some locations were scheduling up to a week out.

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