Colorado could be several weeks away from its peak hospitalizations in the current COVID-19 surge, but the uncertainty of the omicron variant makes it difficult to project how it could impact the state’s health care system, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy.
The seven-day percent positivity rate in the state is the highest it has been during the pandemic at over 25%, an indicator of widespread transmission of the omicron variant. While hospitalizations are increasing as well, the rise is not as steep as case rates or percent positivity. Still, state officials are preparing for multiple scenarios in the coming weeks.
Herlihy specifically studied the omicron surges in other locations to get a sense of what Colorado might experience, but the data is mixed: London, for example, continues to see a steep rise in hospitalizations more than a month into its omicron surge, which surpasses Colorado’s recent fall wave. South Africa’s Gauteng province, on the other hand, saw a plateau in hospitalizations after about 30 days. Colorado is about Day 18 in its omicron transmission, Herlihy estimated.
“This is leading to a lot of uncertainty about what our hospitalization numbers could look like over the next couple of weeks,” she said during a Wednesday briefing.
Adding to that uncertainty is omicron’s increased transmissibility. It is not clear how many patients in Colorado are hospitalized because of COVID-19 or became infected with it while hospitalized for another reason. Regardless, both instances put strain on health care workers who must take the same precautions to avoid spreading the virus to other patients or staff.
“Many of our new hospitalizations due to COVID are less severe, but everybody who is in a hospital bed does contribute to reduced hospital capacity,” incident commander Scott Bookman said.
As of Wednesday, 1,308 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, according to Bookman. Compared with last fall’s surge, he said hospital capacity is remaining relatively stable so far with about 500 beds available.
The omicron variant is also evading previously touted treatments like monoclonal antibodies, which the state scaled up to fight the fall wave. Bookman said that only one available antibody seems to work against omicron, whereas multiple were highly effective against the delta variant. That antibody is administered as an IV infusion, reducing the number of sites that can administer it.
The federal government is also sending just 300 doses per week to Colorado. That is compared with approximately 4,000 doses at one point.
There are currently nine locations offering monoclonal antibodies until Saturday, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“It’s an incredibly limited supply and not enough to spread out to all the providers we had,” Bookman said. “Once again in COVID, we are pivoting our response strategy to make sure we are meeting the needs we can, the best that we can, with the incredibly limited supply that is coming from the federal government.”
Bookman and Herlihy continued to urge people to get vaccinated and boosted and stay home if they feel sick.