DENVER (KDVR) — Gov. Jared Polis told Coloradans not to panic but also not to ignore the truth the recent upward tick in COVID-19 cases during a news conference Monday afternoon.
“I don’t want people to have their head in the sand,” he said during a press conference, “or to be irrationally alarmist.”
Together with state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Polis said he foresees a new wave of Colorado infections.
Statewide daily COVID cases have more than doubled since late June, from a 7-day average of 301 on June 21 to an average of 740 on July 29.
These numbers are still well beneath the heights seen during last year’s fall wave, but hospitalization numbers have started to trend upwards in the last week after a month-long stable period.
“I fully expect this to get worse before it gets better,” Polis said.
The issue is largely concentrated among unvaccinated persons.
The number of COVID cases has only risen slightly for vaccinated people. In early June it was one case per 100,000 people, now it’s up to three cases per 100,000. For unvaccinated people, the rate has risen more substantially, from less than ten cases per 100,000 to 17.
Still, the state has seen more breakthrough cases than it expected, though that number goes down for hospitalizations and deaths.
From July 1 – July 24, 20% of COVID cases in Colorado were seen in fully vaccinated individuals. Only 13% of hospitalizations happened to vaccinated person, and 8% of deaths.
As time has passed since the vaccine rollout in January, the number and proportion of breakthrough cases has risen. Herlihy said this reflects mainly that the number of vaccinated persons in Colorado is obviously higher now than earlier in the year.
Breakthrough data does show a link between certain vaccines and breakthrough rates. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients represent a higher percentage of Colorado’s breakthrough cases than Moderna recipients.
Herlihy said this data is still hazy and may only show that Moderna has been used in smaller numbers in Colorado, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has always charted lower effectiveness rates.
Despite rising case numbers and breakthrough cases, the administration does not fear the same kind of deadly spike as last year.
Polis insisted the state’s hospitals are not edging close to or exceeding their capacity now, and do not expect to do so.
CDPHE data backs his claim. Only 5% of the state’s hospitals expect intensive care unit bed shortages, and only 10% expect any kind of staffing shortage.
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID has risen from 300 to 400 since June, with the daily average of new COVID hospitalization rising by less than 10 per day in the same period.
Still, he wants to keep hospitalization numbers as low as possible to avoid anything like last year’s fall wave.
Polis and Herlihy spoke of a goal to have 80% of eligible Coloradans vaccinated before winter, meaning another half-million people. If the state maintains is current daily average of roughly 7,200 daily vaccinations, Colorado will hit this mark in 70 days.
Projections show Colorado would reduce its number of COVID hospitalizations by half if it met this goal.