New COVID-19 cases in Colorado increased slightly last week and more people were admitted to hospitals in connection with the virus for the first time in more than a month.
The rise in cases was small, with the weekly total increasing about 4%, to 2,203. It was the first time cases had risen week-over-week since mid-April, though.
New hospital admissions increased more noticeably, rising about 14% from the previous week — their first increase since early May. Sunday’s and Monday’s numbers were lower, though, suggesting last week could have been a blip, rather than the start of a new wave.
As of Monday afternoon, a total of 311 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 statewide, which is lower than a week earlier even with the rise in new admissions. Overall, hospitalizations are continuing the “bumpy” decline they’ve had this spring, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.
Cases remained low in most counties, though six would have had enough to go into Level Yellow if the state’s dial framework were still enforced: Custer, Dolores, Hinsdale, Mesa, Moffat and Saguache. Under Level Yellow, most businesses were limited to half of capacity.
The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive was elevated in those six counties, as well as in Clear Creek, Gunnison and Ouray counties. When more than 5% of tests are positive, it suggests the area might have undetected cases.
So far, the increase in the virus’s spread seems to be happening mostly in areas where the delta variant has become established, Carlton said. Delta is more contagious than the alpha variant, which previously dominated in Colorado. It also may cause more severe illness, but scientists are still trying to verify that.
“These areas have both delta and low vaccination rates,” she said.
Last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced it had sent scientists to Mesa County, as had the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are trying to understand if that part of the state is actually seeing more severe “breakthrough” cases among vaccinated nursing home residents than would be expected, and if so, why.
Much remains unknown about the delta variant. Studies from the United Kingdom suggested the vaccines are somewhat less effective against it, but still provide significant protection. The World Health Organization has urged vaccinated people to resume wearing masks in public, though the CDC hasn’t changed its stance that those who are two weeks past their last shot can safely go maskless.
Since it’s not clear how high the risk of breakthrough cases might be, it’s a good idea to urge people in your circle to get vaccinated, especially if they’re going to be around people who might become more severely ill, Carlton said. For example, young adults who want to see their grandparents can make it safer by getting the shot themselves, rather than relying on the grandparents’ immunity, she said.
“The most secure place to be is fully vaccinated, with the people around you fully vaccinated,” she said.