Oct 28, 2021 - COVID
Colorado's COVID-19 case rate increase is worst in the nation
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Colorado has the lowest number of hospital beds available right now compared with any other point in the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials said Wednesday.

Yes, but: It's still unclear what Gov. Jared Polis' administration will do to address the worsening situation.

Threat level: The rate of coronavirus cases nationwide is declining, but Colorado leads the U.S. in per capita case increases over the past two weeks.

  • State public health officials cautioned that rising positivity rates indicate more hospitalizations to come.

And the situation is taxing the state's health care system.

  • An estimated 1,191 people are currently being hospitalized for COVID-19 in Colorado, ticking toward December's high of 1,847, when bed capacity was greater.
  • The highest hospitalization rates are in El Paso, Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, according to state data.

What they're saying: "We are continuing to move very much in the wrong direction," Scott Bookman, the state's COVID-19 chief, said at a briefing.

Between the lines: State public health leaders said they don't know why Colorado is the trouble spot on the COVID map.

  • Rachel Herlihy, the state's epidemiologist, speculated it could be related to the weather, pointing to western and northern states having higher rates.

What's happening: For months now, as the fifth wave rose unabated, officials have hinted at new statewide mandates to protect hospital capacity. But so far, little is known.

  • The executive director of Colorado's public health department said in August that her agency is looking at new statewide policies.
  • The governor said last week he's considering using the National Guard to address the issue but didn't offer details.
  • Eric France, the state's chief medical officer, raised the possibility of mask requirements and additional action at the state and local level.

What's new: Pressed Wednesday by Axios Denver, state officials said the geographic disparities in rates means local requirements — not a statewide order — are the best approach.

  • Bookman said the state is discussing the matter with local authorities, but he would not share details.

Zoom in: Likewise, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock played coy when asked about the possibility of new rules, such as indoor mask mandates or requiring proof of vaccinations in public places.

  • "As always, the answer remains the same: Data will lead us, and everything remains on the table," Hancock said. "It would be too early to take anything off the table."

Editor's note: The headline in this story has been corrected to reflect that Colorado's coronavirus case rate increase is the highest in the U.S., not its total case count.

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