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Social distancing appears to bend Colorado’s COVID-19 curve, race for PPE and beds intensifies

Story Update: Thursday, April 2 to reflect Governor Jared Polis’ letter to Vice President Pence

Colorado had the highest day of reported cases of COVID-19 since the crisis began a month ago.

There is new data that Governor Jared Polis’ executive social distancing orders appear to have pushed the curved down slightly, with the virus’ peak expected soon.

But a new crisis of beds and PPE is emerging as Colorado expects to see a rise of COVID-19 patients entering hospitals in the coming weeks.

Colorado

  • 18,645 tested (+1796)
  • 3,342 positives (+376)
  • 620 hospitalized (+111)
  • 80 deaths (+11)
  • 40 counties (+0)

* From CDPHE. Numbers can be 24 hours behind local county health reports. Current as of April 1, 2020

The Numbers
Pueblo County All:

28 Positives (*current as of April 1)

  • 322 tested
  • 242 negative
  • 53 pending**

(** current as of March 31)

*From Pueblo Health

Southern Colorado Counties:

  • County / positives / (deaths)
  • Alamosa – 4
  • Baca – 3
  • Bent – 0
  • Chaffee – 17 (1)
  • Conejos – 0
  • Crowley – 1 (1)
  • Costilla – 3
  • Custer – 0
  • El Paso – 314 (14)
  • Fremont – 2
  • Kiowa – 0
  • Otero – 3
  • Prowers – 0
  • Rio Grande – 5
  • Saguache – 1

* From CDPHE. Numbers can be 24 hours behind local county health reports. Current as of April 1, 2020

The curve is flattening, slightly:

The numbers Wednesday night for hospitalized cases, deaths, and cases from the onset of COVID-19 show a rounding of the curve but not a flattening. While not conclusive, the slight bending of the curve was something Gov. Polis said Colorado would see after aggressive social distancing measures taken in March during Monday’s press conference. 

On Monday, Governor Jared Polis said the numbers of cases are doubling every 5 days a change from every 2 days before social distancing policies were implemented.

Polis also said state data was seeing the “R-naught” number (number of people a positive COVID-19 person could infect) was down to 3-4. Polis’ goal is to get that number to 0 as quickly as possible.

The aggressive action was not meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 but rather to give the infrastructure time to handle the coming influx of patients.

What’s happening:

Just looking at the number of new COVID-19 cases doesn’t tell the whole picture. 

A patient who was admitted to the hospital on Saturday, given a COVID-19 test and received test results 5 days later, would be counted as a positive case on that day and not when the patient showed signs of the illness.

This is where looking at onset dates will be crucial for Colorado to see if there’s a flattening of the curve. 

From March 8 to March 28, the rise of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the onset date shows the familiar peak pattern of an infectious disease. Starting in the last week of March, the impacts of stay-at-home orders, closing ski slopes, bars and restaurants, and non-essential businesses are showing the curve is bending, slightly.

*CDPHE updated numbers may change.

4-1 Hospitalized Cases Reported4-1 Hospitalized Cases Onset

4-1 Deaths Reported4-1 Deaths by Onset

4-1 Cases by reported4-1 Cases by Onset

The Delay Problem:

The problem still remains knowing what experts don’t know. Without widespread testing and results taking days, the numbers reported are heavily weighted towards severe cases and hospitalizations and they can be a week behind.

On Thursday, Scott Bookman, incident commander for CDPHE said in a media teleconference, there could be 13,000-30,000 cases of COVID-19 in the state. 

In addition, Polis sent a sent to Vice President Mike Pence that Colorado’s death rate was rising faster than other states:

Colorado’s COVID-19 death rate is rising faster than any other state right now; the pandemic is spreading so fast that lags in testing are masking the true conditions experienced by Coloradans across the state.”

The Supply Chain problem: 

With the national stockpile nearly depleted, and fifty states competing with FEMA for equipment, Gov. Polis is buying from China and domestic manufacturers to fill Colorado’s need for PPE.

On Wednesday Polis said Colorado is short:

  • N95 masks – 236k needed
  • Surgical masks – 1.1m needed
  • Face shields – 200k needed
  • Gowns – 196k needed
  • Gloves – 120k needed

The equipment from China will be rigorously tested, Polis said.

Colorado Polis PPE Need

The Bed Problem:

Patients hospitalized for the illness are on a ventilator for an average of 11 to 20 days, said Bookman, With the surge of severe cases expected in mid-April and lasting weeks, Polis wants:

  • 5,000 critical care hospital beds by April 18
  • Ambulatory care units and freestanding emergency rooms to assist hospitals’ critical caseload.
  • 2,000 beds for recovering patients at arenas and warehouses by April 18.
  • 10,000 beds in hotels, dormitories, and other lodging facilities for those in quarantine and the homeless by May 15.
  • A safe patient transport system in place.

The Southern Colorado Picture:

  • Pueblo County had 7 new cases bringing the county’s total to 28 positives according to email statement.
    • Randy Evetts, Pueblo Public Health Director, said on social media, the new cases were from testing a week ago.  
  • El Paso County: An alarming picture is coming out of the county as it saw its case number rise to 314. More worrisome for public health is how one woman was infected than then spread the illness to hundreds at a bridge club. Dr. Leon Kelly said Tuesday, the woman who died didn’t travel outside of the county but spread the illness to potentially 300 people. Three people have died.
  • Rural Baca County, in Colorado’s most southeast point, announced late Wednesday its 4th case of COVID-19. It’s worth keeping in on if this turns into an outbreak. 

Big Picture: Colorado is potentially seeing the first signs that Polis’ stay-at-home orders are having an effect on Colorado of slowing down spread, giving hospitals time to increase staffing, and acquire what PPE they can. The peak of COVID-19 is expected over the next several weeks.

One more thing: Polis said he wouldn’t make a decision on extending Colorado’s April 11 date for stay-at-home orders until he had more data.


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