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Colorado keeps pulse on hospital capacity as Covid infections spike nationwide

Approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, public health officials worry about Colorado hospitals meeting demand as Covid-19 cases continue to surge.

DENVER (CN) — Days before Thanksgiving, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported statewide hospitals have reached 94% capacity, with 18% of demand driven by Covid-19 patients.

“Get vaccinated and boosted so you can be sure the only thing you’re passing around the table is the turkey,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said recently at the State Emergency Operations Center in Centennial.

As the state reports an average of 3,214 infections and 36 deaths daily over the last week, the state has focused on reducing hospital strain, distributing monoclonal antibody treatment to health clinics and expanding booster shot eligibility.

Across the Centennial State, 1,518 people are currently hospitalized for Covid-19, 82% of which were unvaccinated against the disease. With 54% of ventilators and 94% of acute hospital beds in use, the state is bracing for worse as people travel and gather for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Holiday gatherings are something we definitely have on the back of our mind,” said Tori Burket, epidemiology program manager at Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. “We have seen that Covid thrives in family groups. If you're spending close contact with any group of people, that's a pretty good way to get and spread Covid. So I think one of the things we're messaging to the community is taking proactive measures.”

Proactive measures include becoming vaccinated and obtaining boosters six months after receiving a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna shots. Boosters are also recommend two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Covid-19 variant B.1.1.7 drove the Centennial State’s last surge of infection in the spring. Now nearly all cases are attributed to the delta variant B.1.617.2. First identified in India in December 2020, the delta variant appeared in Mesa County, Colorado, on May 6, 2021.

“Patients who are infected with delta have a much higher viral load, which means there's more virus in their nasal pharynx,” said Dr. Wesley Long the medical director of microbiology at Houston Methodist. “That combined with other mutations in the virus and the spike protein makes the virus much more transmissible."

Long contributed to a paper published in the American Journal of Pathology this month analyzing breakthrough cases in vaccinated patients admitted to the Texas hospital from March to September.

Of 16,965 SARS-CoV-2 samples analyzed, 23.7% were from vaccinated patients infected with the delta variant. A small portion of vaccinated patients were infected with other strains. The remaining 72% — all unvaccinated — experienced more severe outcomes leading the researchers to conclude “vaccines used in the United States are highly effective in decreasing severe Covid-19 disease, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

While vaccinated people may carry and spread Covid-19, Long said they do so at a lower rate than the unvaccinated, shown by the low rates of infection in communities with high rates of vaccination.

In addition to obtaining Covid vaccines and boosters, Long emphasized the need to keep up with flu shots.

Beginning in late October, the U.S. has steadily reported increases in Covid cases with an average 92,800 people reporting positive each day over the last week. This resulted in an average 5,600 people being hospitalized and 1,000 deaths daily over the last week.

Per The New York Times, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico are now reporting the highest increases in Covid. With a little more than half of its population fully vaccinated, Michigan reported a daily average of 8,780 newly confirmed cases over the last week. With 62% of its population vaccinated, Minnesota has a climbing daily average of 4,225 Covid-19 cases.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports unvaccinated people are six times more likely to contract Covid and 14 times as likely to die from the disease, compared to vaccinated people.

Last Friday, the U.S. expended eligibility for booster shots to all Americans over 18, according to the recommended schedule of six months passed a second Moderna or Pfizer shot, and two months following a J&J shot.

“These updated recommendations and the data emphasize an addition point: it is more important for the population over 65 years of age and with underlying health conditions to get boosted,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said in a press conference Monday.

In addition to posing near-term public health crises, researchers worry higher rates of transmission provide more opportunities for the virus to mutate into strains that may be more virulent or transmissible.

“We need to really double down on efforts to limit transmission because that is the only way to prevent evolution of new and potentially even more dangerous variants,” said Dr. Kathryn Hanley, regents professor of biology at New Mexico State University.

“What to do about it is very straightforward: everybody needs to get vaccinated, everybody needs to get boosted. Now how to implement that moves into the realm of social science and you've left me behind,” Hanley said. “I am always mystified that people are reluctant to be vaccinated in the first place.”

Still, states continue to steadily administer vaccines. Between newly eligible youth, people seeking boosters, and first timers, Colorado administered 90,660 vaccines over the last week.

“For people who are banking on infection-acquired immunity, I think a key message is that immunity is not going to last forever,” said Elizabeth Carlton, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

Carlton added that vaccine-acquired immunity is more robust and lasts longer. In the near term, Carlton said, vaccines ensure people can gather safely during the holidays.

“If people are vaccinated, if your kids are vaccinated, there are ways to celebrate the holidays that are different than last year,” Carlton said. “There's a window of opportunity to try to encourage those who have not yet been boosted or vaccinated to be vaccinated to make those holidays safer.”

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