New COVID level coming
State’s designation is not expected to be as restrictive as stay-at-home orders
By Meg Wingerter and Alex Burness
The Denver Post
Colorado state and county officials are in talks to add a new level to the state COVID-19 dial — just below the highest, stay-at-home level — as new numbers released Monday showed cases and hospitalizations continue to climb.
An announcement is expected Tuesday. It’s unclear what, exactly, the new level would require, though a half-dozen sources who confirmed the plan told The Denver Post that the designation won’t be as restrictive the stay-at-home order Gov. Jared Polis issued in March. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the details haven’t been finalized.
At least six Denver-area counties — Denver, Boulder, Broomfield, Adams, Jefferson and Arapahoe — have been involved in the talks, sources say.
Polis and local officials have been desperate to avoid placing Colorado in full-on, stay-at-home mode, out of fear of economic ruin and noncompliance, and also out of confidence that the world knows more about how to live with COVID-19 in a reasonably safe manner than it did in the
But officials are running out of options to slow the rise in case counts, hospitalizations and daily deaths.
By Monday, 107 more people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 than had been Saturday, bringing the total receiving hospital care for confirmed cases to 1,294. Another 130 were hospitalized with suspected COVID-19 but were awaiting test results.
In comparison, on the worst day in April, there were 1,277 people hospitalized with confirmed and suspected cases combined.
Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environ- mental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health, said people should “hunker down” for the next few weeks to avoid spreading the virus and overwhelming hospitals until a vaccine becomes available. The highest-risk interactions are those where people are indoors and not wearing masks, she said.
“We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to get through this dark tunnel,” she said.
On Friday, the Colorado Hospital Association announced it was activating a system to transfer patients from overburdened hospitals to those with extra beds. Some hospitals transferred patients over the weekend, association spokeswoman Cara Welch said, though she wasn’t sure how many.
A day after the hospitals’ announcement, Polis said he was ordering the State Emergency Operations Center to move to the highest level of alert, and directed hospitals to come up with a plan to increase the number of intensive-care and general medical beds they have available. If those plans don’t generate enough beds, hospitals could be ordered to stop nonurgent procedures. Fields hospitals could reopen if all other efforts fail.
As of Monday, 34 counties — more than half — were in the orange level, which is just below stay-at-home. In that level, most businesses can only operate at 25% of capacity.
Only 12 counties weren’t at the red level when it came to the number of new cases. That means in 52 counties, there are more than 350 cases for every 100,000 people. In some counties, including Denver, more than one in every 100 people is currently infected.
The rate of tests coming back positive averaged 13% over the last three days, meaning the increased number of reported cases isn’t due to more testing. Experts consider anything above 5% a sign of trouble.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 30,843 cases of COVID-19 in the week ending Sunday. Past increases in cases came with the caveat that infections were at the highest level since Colorado has had reliable data, because testing was so scarce in the spring.
Now, more people in the state are infected than have been at any time since the virus emerged, Carlton said.
“We’ve blown past the April peak,” she said.
Deaths may have increased again last week, based on high initial reports, but the final toll won’t be known for at least another week.
In the week ending Nov. 8, 121 people died of COVID19, which was the highest number since the week ending May 10. At the worst point, in the third week of April, 237 people died of the virus.
Since March, 167,713 people in Colorado have tested positive for the new coronavirus and 11,203 have been hospitalized. As of Monday, 2,276 people had died of the virus, and 302 others died with it. Meg Wingerter: mwingerter @denverpost.com or @MegWingerter
Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health, said people should “hunker down” for the next few weeks to avoid spreading the virus and overwhelming hospitals until a vaccine becomes available. “We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to get through this dark tunnel.”