Virus Outbreak Colorado

Visitor comply with the face mask mandate due to the coronavirus as they enter the Denver Zoo early Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Key COVID statistics leveled out in Colorado over the past week, but the current plateau is still higher than any point since January and experts warn that the presence of variants of the virus makes the situation unstable.

Colorado averaged 1,571 daily coronavirus cases over the past week, according to  state Department of Public Health and Environment statistics. The number of cases has remained between 1,500 and 1,600 since the second week of April.

The daily case average rose more than 50% between mid-March and earlier this month. 

The percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive has followed a similar track. In mid-March, the seven-day average about 3.5% of people tested had the virus. The percentage was 5.8% on April 8 and remains under 6%. 

Hospitalizations for the virus have started to plateau, but that figure was rising regularly last week. Between April 3 and April 20, the state added more than 60 confirmed or suspected COVID hospitalizations; between April 20 and April 25, there's been a net increase of seven new hospitalizations, according to state statistics. But on Monday, more than 40 new hospitalizations were added.

The increase in hospitalized patients from the virus hit despite those most vulnerable to severe disease — older Coloradans — been vaccinated in large numbers. Elizabeth Carlton, a professor and epidemiologist with the Colorado School of Public Health, said confirmed coronavirus hospitalizations rose sharply, from 326 on April 1 to 570 as of Sunday evening. Though the seven-day average of new hospital admissions for the virus has dropped, "twice in the past week, over 100 people were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 on a single day," Carlton said.

"The good news is that it looks like the vaccines are protecting older populations," she said. "The bad news is that younger people are getting infected, younger people are getting severe disease, and there appears to be far more risk of infection now than a month ago."

Vaccination rates aren't high enough among the public to stop the spread of the virus, Colorado School of Public Health's Glen Mays said, and the state can't "be confident yet that we have contained the risks posed by the virus variants."

"My assessment is that we remain in a fluid situation that is driven by the personal decisions we are all making daily," he said. "The vaccination rates are not high enough yet to have a large dampening effect on transmission, except in older adults."

Jon Samet, the dean of the school of public health, agreed.

"Vaccination will ultimately win out, but it's hard to pinpoint when, and variants are a complication," he said.

Soon, officials expect statistics to reflect an easing of state coronavirus restrictions. Those restrictions, including state limits on the number of people allowed at restaurants and other business, were allowed to expire as county governments took responsibility for limiting the spread of the disease.

"We are close to the finish line," Carlton said, "but not there quite yet."

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