A surge of COVID-19 vaccine shipments are expected in Colorado starting next week — kicking distribution of the doses into high gear and opening more mass vaccination sites across the state in the process, Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday.
Polis learned on a call with the White House Tuesday morning that Colorado would receive 3,000 extra doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines next week and a significant amount of additional Johnson & Johnson doses the week after next, Polis said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
Polis said he expects Colorado to be seeing shipments of around 400,000 vaccine doses per week by the end of April.
To administer this surge of vaccines — staying in step with the state’s new goal of getting doses into the arms of the general public by mid-April— Polis said the state will rely on roughly half a dozen mass vaccination sites sprinkled across Colorado.
The mass vaccination sites are expected to open in the next few days at the earliest and next two weeks at the latest, Polis said. One of the sites will be located at The Ranch in Loveland.
While details on the state’s plans for the complex as a mass vaccination site are still being solidified, it is expected to open for vaccinations later this month and be open five days a week, with the possibility of it ramping up to six days a week, Larimer County health department spokesperson Kori Wilford said.
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‘A high plateau’
After a rapid and steady decrease of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Colorado this winter, progress in the state’s fight against the virus is stalling, two top epidemiologists said Tuesday.
Recent peaks in daily case counts have hovered around 1,200 new daily cases since mid-February, according to state health department data.
“We’ve reached a bit of a high plateau in the state,” Colorado State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said.
The state is also seeing a small uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations. A slight increase in hospitalizations has been recorded in the past two days, with 13 new hospital admissions bringing the total number of Colorado’s COVID-19 patients to 341 on Tuesday, Polis said.
“That’s not an alarming number,” he said, adding that the upward trend, however, is worrying.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Polis, Herlihy and Dr. Jonathan Samet, an epidemiologist and dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, urged Coloradans to stay the course with social distancing and mask requirements in light of the state’s uptick in hospitalizations.
If people were to loosen up on gathering, mask or distancing restrictions in the next week, state models showed an estimated 700 people could die who would have otherwise not in the next four weeks, Samet said.
The state’s models for COVID-19 transmission and potential deaths were worsened when factoring in variants of the virus that popped up in the United Kingdom, South Africa, New York and California before being discovered in Colorado.
If the more-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant — which was first detected in the U.K. and is currently the most common of the outside variants in Colorado — spreads at the same rapid rate that it did in the U.K., Colorado’s COVID-19 death toll could rise by an estimated 2,592 by June 1 as compared to a rise of 1,024 without any further spread of B.1.1.7 in that same time frame, Samet said.
As of Tuesday, Colorado had 336 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, 225 of the B.1.427/B.1.429 variant that was first detected in California, 11 of the B.1.351 variant that was first detected in South Africa and four cases of the B.1.526 variant, which emerged in New York earlier this year, Herlihy said.
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As of March 8, approximately 22% of people in Colorado had immunity to COVID-19 through either vaccinations or prior infections, Herlihy presented, and an estimated one in 354 Coloradans are currently infected with COVID-19 — down from an estimated one in 41 this past December.
Meanwhile, an estimated 77% of Coloradans 70 years old or older have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — COVID-19 hospitalizations among that age group are on the decline — and more than 80% of Coloradans 65 and older have received a dose.
The start date of Colorado’s 1B.4 vaccine group, which includes people 50 and older, some essential workers and other groups, was recently moved up a couple of days to Friday.
People in that phase can start setting up vaccine appointments as early as Wednesday, if allowed by their clinic or vaccine provider, Polis said. At the latest, vaccine appointments can be set up starting Friday.
As more and more Coloradans get vaccine doses, shipments increase and hospitalizations stay stable, Polis said he plans to lay out what loosened restrictions may look like on the state’s evolving COVID-19 dial next week.
The actual action of walking back dial restrictions and putting more control and flexibility into the hands of individual counties is expected to begin around mid-April, Polis added.
Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a digital subscription to the Coloradoan today.