There are more Coloradans currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other point this year, new data shows, and the state has surpassed 8,000 deaths from the virus.
The two data points, both updated Tuesday afternoon, are grim reminders that the pandemic continues to hospitalize and kill Coloradans, 19 months after it first emerged and nearly a year after vaccines became widely available.
Though mortality has fallen since inoculations were introduced, more than 1,000 residents here have died since late June, despite optimism from state leaders, who in the spring expressed hope that the pandemic was beginning to subside.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the number of deaths due to COVID-19 stood at 8,065. The number of deaths among cases sat at 7,790. Mortality has undeniably dropped in 2021: At the end of last year, there were several consecutive weeks where more than 200 — rising even as high as more than 400 — residents died during seven-day spans. From the second week of February through a month ago, there had not been a week where more than 100 residents had died.
But that number has twice been eclipsed in the past month, and more than 400 have died since the fifth wave began to peak at the beginning of September. The majority of deaths overall have been borne by the state's oldest residents, as has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic.
There's a stark difference in mortality among vaccinated versus unvaccinated Coloradans: According to state data, the per-1 million death rate in August was over 70 for residents who hadn't been inoculated, as opposed to 19.5 for vaccinated residents.
More than three-quarters of Coloradans currently hospitalized are also unvaccinated. As of Tuesday, there were 1,045 patients with confirmed (976) or suspected (69) cases of COVID-19; of those confirmed, 216 have been vaccinated versus 760 who haven't. Gov. Jared Polis said earlier this week that if the entire state were vaccinated, fewer than 300 people would be hospitalized.
"Some (unvaccinated people in the hospital) won't even make it, some will die," the governor told reporters last week. "Some will make it, but it will be a harrowing few days and weeks. We wish them well in their recovery, but we also wish that their misery helps get the message out on why people should be vaccinated."
Both the total and confirmed hospitalization figures are the highest marks of 2021 thus far, despite the wide availability of a vaccine demonstrated to reduce the changes of severe disease. Polis said residents who haven't been inoculated are hospitalized "for no good reason."
Ninety-one percent of intensive care beds in the state are currently in use, according to state data. Officials said last week that roughly 40% of those patients have COVID-19, while the rest are patients with conditions that are typical for intensive care. The total ICU capacity has been higher amid this latest surge than it has been at any other point in the pandemic, though there are fewer beds available now than there were in November, when hospitals activated surge planning.
Though COVID-19 cases began to fall in the latter half of September, hospitalizations remained high. Now, those cases have climbed back again: The state is averaging more than 2,000 new cases per day over the past week; prior to September, Colorado had not surpassed that benchmark since January.
Health officials said last week that they were concerned not only about the high number of hospitalizations but also with the number of COVID-19 tests that are returning positive. Over the past week, Colorado has averaged 7.43% positivity. That's down slightly — from 7.45% — from earlier this week, but it remains higher than at any point since the first week of January.
The surge, officials in Colorado and nationwide have said, is being driven by the more transmissible and potentially more severe delta variant, as well as by unvaccinated residents. State data indicates that every county in Colorado has had a high rate of spread over the past two weeks.
Just like with mortality and hospitalizations, there is a wide gulf between the rate of infection for the vaccinated and unvaccinated Coloradans. According to state data, the per-100,000 rate of infection in the last week of September was 105.4 among the vaccinated. For the unvaccinated, it was over 354.