Hospitals and officials in Colorado are preparing for COVID-19 hospital stays to rise further in the coming days, a senior state health official said on Wednesday. Although a peak may be approaching and overall capacity will remain stable, hospital officials warn that they are still facing a critical rush of patients.
After an autumn wave stretched Colorado hospitals into their tightest moments of the pandemic, December brought respite and a steady decline in COVID-19 patients. But the wildfire spread of the Omicron variant quickly reversed those trends: more Coloradans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday than in November 2021, and officials said the overall record of hospital admissions was set in November 2020. can be surpassed shortly.
Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s state epidemiologist, told reporters on Wednesday that 1,577 people are being hospitalized with COVID-19, one more than the Delta Wave peak last fall. 585 people infected with the virus have been hospitalized since Christmas, and the steep rise is still showing no signs of slowing.
New models from researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health, presented by Herlihy, show a range of scenarios for the state’s hospitals in the coming weeks. Herlihy said it was “likely” that Colorado would end up somewhere between two of them: one is already surpassed, out of 1,479 patients on Jan 11, and the other, which is much higher, 2,144 patients on Jan 15.
The state’s overall record for the most COVID-19 patients at once is 1,847, set on December 1, 2020. Herlihy said the Colorado hospital could peak in the next week, despite both case and positivity rates – Changes that signal a growing or declining increase – keep increasing.
Tori Burkett, epidemiology and disease intervention program manager for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said in an email that district officials expect the hospital’s peak “will likely surpass previous 2020 high in the next few weeks.”
Herlihy said preliminary data suggests 65% of patients currently hospitalized in Colorado with COVID-19 are there because of the virus. But that means 35% have “chance” cases, which means they may have gone to the hospital for a different reason and then tested positive. The ratio in the previous waves, Herlihy continued, was between 80 and 90% of COVID-positive patients hospitalized for the virus.
That doesn’t mean these “random infections” can simply be disregarded, she and others said. Herlihy said infections in other patients can complicate their primary medical problem; it complicates their treatment as they must be isolated; and it can extend their length of stay.
COVID-19 infections “continue to place a significant burden on the health system,” she said.
At UCHealth, about a third of the 362 patients infected with COVID-19 in the hospital are being treated for complications from the virus, said Michelle Barron, senior medical director of the Infection Prevention and Control System. The other two-thirds are likely to be random cases. She compared that to August, when only three out of 80 COVID-19 patients had random cases.
In addition, Barron said UCHealth saw what health and hospital officials reported elsewhere: generally milder illnesses. She said roughly a third of the system’s COVID-19 patients are in intensive care.
“Compare that to Delta – if you use the same ratio without going into details, it would be closer to 50 to 60% who need intensive care,” she said.
Jaya Kumar, chief medical officer of the Swedish Medical Center in Denver, said her facility will send between 30 and 40% of infected patients to intensive care during the delta surge. Now, she said, it’s between a fifth and a quarter.
What Kumar and Barron see in their hospitals is reflected across the country. In Colorado, 122 ICU beds were available on Wednesday afternoon, representing roughly 8% of the remaining capacity. While that number is high compared to much of the rest of the pandemic, it has improved from November and early December when the state routinely had fewer than 100 – if not less than 80 – left at any one time.
Scott Bookman, the state’s commander in charge of the COVID-19 incident, told reporters Wednesday that overall capacity was in better shape. He said there was “no evidence” of activating the crisis standards for hospital care here, which, although never used in the state, would include rationing of care for certain patients.
However, despite the stable capacity and relatively mild presentation of Omicron patients, officials warned that the overall situation is not severe. Kumar and Barron both said that patients infected with COVID-19 – even those who are hospitalized for another reason – are still a drain on resources, and the presence of the virus extends a patient’s stay and makes treatment difficult.
“These patients are sicker,” said Kumar about COVID-infected people in the hospital for other reasons. “Having COVID in addition to another illness will extend your length of stay. It will increase the complications these patients will experience. They stay longer, with a more severe illness. … This is not easy for our care providers.” Team because (these patients) need special resources. “
“Hospitals are still full, be it because they all have COVID, some COVID, some COVID, some delayed care, some urgent needs – COVID only makes this problem worse,” added Stephanie Sullivan, spokeswoman for HealthONE.
Kumar said during the delta wave last fall, Sweden had a 20% vacancy rate due to staffing challenges, which is a growing burden on hospitals as the pandemic dragged on. That situation only got worse with omicron, she said: The emergence of the variant has led to more cases among vaccinated employees and removed health workers from the already reduced ranks on the front line.
“We have to block beds because we don’t have enough staff to look after the patients in those beds,” she said. “We have to slow down operations because we can’t do that many operations a day.”
Although a lower proportion of Omicron cases are hospitalized compared to the Delta Wave, the record number of new infections represents an ongoing, serious risk, according to Barron.
“I’m still trying to figure out how this will play out,” she said. “But the sheer number of infections, we will still be overwhelmed.”