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Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations stopped falling after Christmas. Holiday blip or reason to worry?

Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations stopped falling after
Christmas. Holiday blip or reason to worry? 1

Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations stopped falling over the weekend, but it’s not clear if that’s a blip from people delaying care on Christmas or a sign that the virus is spreading more widely.

As of Monday afternoon, 1,173 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The number had been trending downward since Dec. 2, but levelled off in the days following Christmas.

It’s not unusual for people who aren’t critically ill to put off seeking health care on major holidays, so it could be that hospitals saw more admissions in the days following Christmas as those patients began coming in, said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

If that’s what happened, hospitalizations should start falling again by Tuesday or Wednesday, Carlton said. If they stay level or increase, that suggests the virus is once again spreading more widely, she said.

“If people are in need of acute care, they can only hold out so long,” she said. “The last three days have not been encouraging.”

New coronavirus cases have trended down for most of the month, with 13,566 reported last week — fewer than half as many as were reported in the first week of December. It’s possible that the number of new cases could rise over the next few days because some testing sites were closed over Christmas, and people who would have been tested over the weekend are just now getting swabbed, Carlton said.

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The percentage of tests coming back positive rose over the weekend, though that also could reflect that people who weren’t feeling sick were less likely to go to the trouble of seeking out testing on a holiday weekend. A higher positivity rate generally means the state is missing more infections.

Reported COVID-related deaths fell in the second week of December, but it was still the second-deadliest week in Colorado, behind the first week of December. It can take two weeks or longer to get an accurate count of deaths, but it appears totals will continue to fall in the second half of December.

It won’t be clear if Colorado avoided an increase in infections from the holiday until mid-January, because people may continue to gather through New Year’s Day, and it takes time for them to get tested and show up in the data, Carlton said. The state didn’t see a spike in infections following Thanksgiving, but health officials warned a significant number of people are still contagious.

“Even though things are trending down … mixing remains risky,” Carlton said.

Since March, 326,668 people have tested positive for the virus and 17,962 have been hospitalized. The state has reported 4,631 coronavirus-related deaths.

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