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Colorado’s COVID-19 cases increase for first time in seven weeks, but trend still unclear

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Colorado increased last week for the first time since a post-holiday bump, but the change was small enough that it could point to a plateau instead of the beginning of another mountain.

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The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 7,190 new cases of COVID-19 in the week ending Sunday, up from 6,610 in the previous week.

The rate of decrease in cases has been leveling off in recent weeks, and it’s not clear if last week represents a plateau or the start of a new increase, said Beth Carlton, associate professor of occupational and environmental health at Colorado School of Public Health.

The school’s latest modeling report found people had somewhat relaxed their precautions, and the state is “teetering” at a point where infections could go either way, depending on what people do, she said.

“If you’re not yet vaccinated, it’s still important to adopt measures to prevent yourself from being exposed,” she said. “It’s not the time to host a happy hour with 30 of your friends in a bar.”

Only about 3.5% of tests were positive over the last three days, indicating the state isn’t missing large numbers of infections.

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New variants of the virus could push cases up, but vaccination is pushing back, Carlton said. Colorado will receive 45,500 doses of the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination this week, in addition to continued shipments from Pfizer and Moderna.

As of Monday afternoon, 427 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, which was a small increase over the previous days. It’s not unusual for the number of people hospitalized to fluctuate from day to day, though, so it’s too early to detect a trend.

Under most scenarios modeled, Colorado wouldn’t see a spike that would threaten hospital capacity, Carlton said. The only one where the state would run out of beds is if people dramatically relax their precautions, and the more-contagious B.1.1.7 variant spreads widely, she said.

“We don’t know think that’s likely, but I think it’s a good reminder that there are guardrails,” she said.

State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said the state has seen a small increase in cases caused by the B.1.1.7 variant, but the numbers aren’t skyrocketing like they did in the United Kingdom, where the virus was first found. As of Monday afternoon, the state had identified 100 cases of that variant, and 54 cases of variants first identified in California. It’s less clear if the California variants are a threat.

“We think we’re doing OK right now,” she said.

On Monday, the state reported that 822 people may have had been infected twice — about 0.2% of the 429,839 cases since March 2020.

Over the last year, Colorado has recorded 23,550 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 5,952 virus-related deaths.

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