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A woman in her 80's died Friday at UCHealth Memorial Central Hospital in Colorado Springs. According to the UCHealth hospital statement, the hospital received confirmation that the woman tested positive for COVID-19 after she died. The woman is the first death in Colorado from the coronavirus. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

Colorado hospitals may be forced to grapple with a surge of COVID-19 patients beyond the current capacity to treat them, depending on what portion of the population becomes infected by the novel coronavirus and over how many months, estimates show.

Even under optimistic projections, hospitals in the Colorado Springs and Pueblo regions could be hit especially hard when it comes to the number of beds available for potential COVID-19 patients.

The new estimates come from the Harvard Global Health Institute and combine projections of coronavirus spread with hospital bed capacity. The data use three different estimates of infection rates: 20%, 40% or 60% of the population becoming infected, and three different time periods that the infection rates could be spread out: six months, twelve months and eighteen months. The projected medical need also factors what portion of the population in each region is above the age of 65, an age group affected more by the virus.

Even in the rosiest of scenarios studied, hospital capacity around the state would be pushed to the limit.

And the various scenarios considered in the new research would put Colorado in a worse situation than the national average when it comes to whether medical demand could outstrip hospital capacity.

The forecasts show the greatest stresses on hospitals in the state likely would be concentrated in the Colorado Springs and Pueblo Hospital Referral Regions, the geographic unit used by the federal government to tally hospital capacity.

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Using the most modest infection rate estimates, assuming 20% of the Colorado Springs area population, or about 135,000 people, become infected, and if that is spread out over the next 18 months, the need for medical attention would outpace hospital bed capacity in the Colorado Springs Hospital Referral Region (HRR) by 10%. In that scenario, the other hospital regions around the state would remain below their capacity, the research shows.

Using the moderate infection rate — 40% of the Colorado Springs area population or about 269,000 people — and the moderate time period — spread over 12 months — the demand for hospital beds could be 3.4 times beyond what is available in the Colorado Springs hospital region. That figure is greater than any other hospital region in the state.

And if the worst case projections play out, if 60% of the Colorado Springs area population, or about 404,000 people, becomes infected, and if those infections come within the shortest six-month time period analyzed, demand would exceed capacity by 10 times, according to the data.

That level would make Colorado Springs among the most vulnerable regions in the state, again outpacing the potential medical need in excess of hospital capacity for all regions in the state.

While the Pueblo region rates better, and would have less capacity issues than the rest of the state in the overall number of hospital beds, it lacks capacity when it comes to intensive care unit beds.

When the ICU bed need projections are compared to the number of available beds, the Pueblo region could see ICU demand between four and 40 times the capacity of the Pueblo region’s available ICU beds, exceeding the potential ICU bed need-to-ICU bed capacity ratio of any other region in the state.

The moderate infection rate of 40% would mean about 55,000 people in the Pueblo hospital region would become infected, and using the moderate spread time-frame of 12 months, the research estimates Pueblo would have 12 times as many ICU beds needed than are available.

According to the data analyzed by Harvard Global Health Institute, the Colorado Springs hospital region has 1,295 total beds and 149 total ICU beds, and the Pueblo hospital region has 615 total beds and 28 total ICU beds. The analysis considers that each bed would be used multiple times over the duration of the virus’ spread.

Even in the best case scenario considered in the research, all hospital regions in Colorado will see more ICU bed demand than ICU bed capacity, the research suggests.

The research adds weight to the global effort to slow the spread of the virus, over fears that a deficit of hospital capacity around the nation and around the world could lead to massive shortages in care. In Italy, news media has reported there have been so many COVID-19 cases in excess of hospital capacity that physicians have had to make choices about who gets treatment and who doesn’t.

Colorado’s public health officials on Tuesday sought to quell fears of supply shortages, saying in a news conference that the state's Department of Public Health and Environment is “working closely with the federal government to get more supplies.”

“Obviously, this is a challenging situation,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said. “It’s unlike other disasters or situations where we have crises in that there are needs for these resources across the country right now, not just here in Colorado.”

She added that the department is hoping to receive resources from the Strategic National Stockpile, a national repository of medical supplies.

— Liz Henderson contributed to this report.


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