If its COVID-19 transmission rate holds steady, Colorado could see deaths from the virus double in the next five weeks, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy announced Tuesday.
Approximately 3,800 additional people could die from the virus by the end of the year if the state’s transmission control rate remains at 65%, Herlihy said during a Tuesday news conference with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. A 65% transmission control rate means the cumulative effect of behaviors such as mask wearing, social distancing and quarantine has reduced educed the chance of someone being in contact with an infected person by 65%.
Currently, the state has recorded approximately 2,800 deaths related to COVID-19, she said. At the current transmission rate, the state is projected to reach 6,600 deaths related to the disease by the end of the year.
In a worst-case scenario, if transmission control slips further in the state — dipping from its current 65% to 60% — Herlihy said the state could see its COVID-19 death toll increase to an estimated 7,400 people by the end of the year.
Polis and Herlihy used the livestreamed news conference to make a final plea to Coloradans as Thanksgiving approaches. With disease transmission high in Colorado, they begged people to not gather with anyone outside their own household for the holiday.
In Colorado, an estimated one in 41 people are currently contagious with COVID-19, up from 1 in 49 people last week, according to Polis.
That means if you were to host a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner with members of other households, you have a 1 in 5 chance of being exposed to COVID-19, Polis warned.
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With nearly two dozen Colorado counties now under Level Red restrictions, Herlihy said recent crackdowns will hopefully lead to lower case numbers across the state. In fact, just in the past two days, Herlihy said Colorado has seen a stabilization in new COVID-19 cases being reported, likely because of people following harsher restrictions.
“We know that, with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, we could potentially see an increase in cases again,” Herlihy said. “We’ve experienced that previously with holidays, and with Thanksgiving being primarily an indoor holiday with multi-generational gatherings potentially occurring, that does set us up to potentially see a spike in transmission in the state.”
While new COVID-19 cases have at least temporarily dipped in the past two days, Herlihy said hospitalizations due to COVID-19 remain on the rise in Colorado.
As of Monday, 1,711 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients were being hospitalized across the state. The previous record for COVID-19 hospitalizations in Colorado was on April 9, when hospitals reported 1,277 confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients. Colorado exceeded that April record on Nov. 11, when it recorded 1,304 COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to state health department data.
If nothing changes, Colorado’s ICU bed capacity could be exceed by mid-January, Herlihy said.
Calling out counties who say they won’t comply
With COVID-19 hospitalizations still on the rise, Polis fielded questions about what, if anything, the state plans to do as some county leaders and various businesses refuse to comply with increased restrictions.
Following state orders for Weld County to move to Level Red — the state’s second-most severe level on its COVID-19 dial — the county’s Board of Commissioners issued a statement Friday saying they will not enforce the new restrictions, which were set to go into effect Sunday.
On Monday, dozens of business owners in Loveland pushed back on new restrictions in Larimer County, also saying they would not adhere to heightened Level Red restrictions. The restrictions are set to go into effect by 5 p.m. Tuesday, closing restaurants to indoor dining, reducing capacity in offices and canceling outdoor entertainment events and personal gatherings of any size.
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“Every business in the state of Colorado needs to follow our laws, and whether you agree with it or not, in (Level) Red counties, not having indoor dining is the law in Colorado under a temporary health order,” Polis said in response to a question.
“So of course any type of business that violates a health order — whether it’s hepatitis, salmonella or COVID — could lose their license to operate at that retail outlet and lose their liquor license,” Polis added, calling that potential outcome a “devastating” one for small businesses.
“I think it’s time for every Coloradan — and that includes county elected officials — to really ask themselves: Are you on the side of the virus or are you on the side of Colorado?” Polis said.
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.