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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections among kids worry Colorado health officials

Virus Outbreak Colorado Schools
David Zalubowski
Students in masks queue up to enter the building for the first day of in-class learning since the start of the pandemic at Garden Place Elementary School Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in north Denver. All students, visitors and staff are required to wear face coverings while in Denver Public Schools regardless of vaccination status with the start of the school year.

After hitting a spike in September, coronavirus cases across the country have been on the decline. Yet Colorado is among several states bucking the trend. Armed with a range of trend charts, state health officials point to a "stubborn plateau.”

“Last week's case counts are really the highest that we've seen since January,” state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy told reporters recently, pointing to a variety of trends, including infections among school-aged children.

“As we've seen for many weeks, the rates continue to be highest among our 6 to 11-year-olds, followed by the 12 to 17-year-olds, followed by the adults,” she said.

Infections among kids have risen this fall as schools reopened. In the first week of September, as classes got into full swing around the state, KUNC looked at outbreak data for schools. At that time, cases were rising: 886 students and teachers were infected at 80 schools. In the six weeks since then, cases have risen nearly four-fold to 3,453 infections at 199 schools.

Vaccines have not been approved for children under 12. In an effort to prevent infections, schools have implemented rules, like mask requirements for students and teachers. The requirements have in some places become an explosive political issue, spilling out onto social media and even leading to efforts to recall board members, including in Boulder and Weld counties.

Meanwhile, the state crossed a milestone of 8,000 COVID-19 deaths this month, a toll that’s risen by another 120 in a week.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are hovering at close to 1,000 – another trend that state health officials are keeping an eye on. That’s the most patients since late last year when vaccines were first rolling out to health workers and the most at-risk for severe outcomes, including nursing home patients.

“That is actually the highest we have seen this entire year,” said Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander. “We actually have to go back to December of 2020 to find a time that we had more people hospitalized with COVID and so this is a stubborn plateau. Hospitalizations are continuing to rise and it is really important that we continue to do all that we can to protect our hospital capacity.”

While protecting hospital capacity is an emergency management issue, Bookman said it is affected by everyday actions taken by ordinary people, like wearing masks and social distancing where recommended, even at a time when roughly 70% of all Coloradans are fully vaccinated. The concern remains that hospitals can fill up, a situation that prompted officials to enact lockdowns early in the pandemic.

The state’s hospitals seem far from that point. About 27% of them are expecting a shortage of ICU beds this week. Still, about 9 of 10 ICU beds are taken by patients with and without COVID. A main driver of the trend is unvaccinated people — about 77% to 78% of COVID-19 hospital patients were not vaccinated.

As investigative reporter for KUNC, I take tips from our audience and, well, investigate them. I strive to go beyond the obvious, to reveal new facts, to go in-depth and to bring new perspectives and personalities to light.
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