Colorado’s COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped for a second week — the first time that’s happened since March.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that 243 people were hospitalized for the virus across the state as of Tuesday afternoon. The number of people receiving care for the virus had hovered between 300 and 325 from mid-June through late July.
The declining hospitalizations, combined with improvements in other measures, is “suggestive” that the BA.5 variant may have already done the worst of its damage, said Talia Quandelacy, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health.
In Colorado, BA.5 was found in about 79% of sequenced samples as of July 10, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that it accounts for about 87% of cases nationwide.
“That’s lining up with the declining trends in cases and test positivity, finally,” she said.
Even though the situation is improving, the odds are still relatively high that somebody in a crowd will have the virus, so people who don’t want to get it should keep wearing masks, Quandelacy said.
“There are still measures people can use to keep themselves from getting infected,” she said.
About 7.7% of tests in Colorado came back positive over the last seven days, which is higher than the 5% threshold where experts start getting concerned about missed cases. But it’s still the lowest positivity rate since early May.
Cases continued to drop, with 8,460 new infections recorded in the week ending Sunday, down from 10,011 the previous week. Since many people aren’t reporting home tests to public health — or aren’t getting tested at all — the true number of cases is certainly higher. But since they’ve been undercounted for some time now, it’s possible to see a pattern in how cases are trending, even if the specific numbers are fuzzy.
The number of active outbreaks also dropped, from 385 last week to 376 on Wednesday.
Nationwide, cases and hospitalizations also have started to decrease.
The CDC only listed three Colorado counties as high-risk as of Wednesday morning: Pitkin, Rio Blanco and San Juan. High-risk counties have at least 200 new cases for every 100,000 people, and some signs of elevated hospitalizations for the virus.
It’s not clear what will happen in the coming weeks, as new variants may challenge BA.5’s dominance, Quandelacy said. The state health department reported last week that BA.2.75 has shown up in two wastewater systems, and it recently added the newly designated BA.4.6 variant to its dashboard. All of the BA variants are relatives of the original omicron.
So far, BA.4.6 makes up less than 1% of cases in Colorado, and BA.2.75 hasn’t shown up in patients’ tests sent for sequencing. Right now, so little is known about either variant that it’s nearly impossible to predict whether they’ll send cases rising again or just peter out, Quandelacy said. Variants are arising and moving through the population faster than scientists can study them.
“The challenge with these new variants is, typically, there’s been more time,” she said.
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