Colorado flu hospitalizations rise, while COVID direction is unclear


Flu appears to be the top respiratory threat in Colorado for the next few weeks, as COVID-19 hospitalizations show some signs of leveling off.

Since Oct. 2, 952 people in Colorado have been hospitalized with flu, and the level of influenza-like illness was “very high,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re continuing to see far more people hospitalized with flu than at this time in a typical year,” said Beth Carlton, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health. “I think that’s the big concern for the weeks ahead.”

The return of flu and respiratory syncytial virus — a bug that causes colds for most people but can lead to severe illness — while COVID-19 remains a threat raised concerns of a “tripledemic” of lung infections this winter. That’s looking less likely as RSV hospitalizations appear to be declining. It’s less clear what’s happening with COVID-19 hospitalizations, but they didn’t rise this week.

The hospitalization rate for RSV dropped in the last week of November, though it remains 79% higher than at last year’s peak. The drop reported in the previous week was revised to a slight increase, but the overall trend appears to be downward.

“That’s what we’re hoping, and it does seem to look that way,” Carlton said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 1,700 people have been hospitalized with RSV in the Denver area since Oct. 1. (The department doesn’t collect statewide data about RSV.)

Though the majority of those hospitalized with RSV are children, adults have made up an increasing share, reaching 27% in the week ending Saturday. While infants and toddlers are most vulnerable to RSV, it also can be severe for people over 65 and those with compromised immune systems.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also appeared to drop this week, though it’s difficult to be sure, since the state only reports them weekly. The state health department showed 399 people were hospitalized with the virus on Tuesday afternoon, down from 440 at the same time a week earlier.

“I think there are signs that hospital demand is stabilizing or going down,” Carlton said. “But I’m not breathing a full sigh of relief yet.”

Some other signs also pointed to possible improvement: about 11.1% of tests came back positive over the last seven days, down from 12.8% a week earlier. Cases increased by about 600, however, to 8,108 in the week ending Sunday.

Wastewater data suggested the amount of virus is starting to plateau in the Denver area, though it continues to increase in the northern part of the Front Range, Carlton said. Still, there’s a significant amount of virus circulating in the community, and COVID-19 hospitalizations are at levels seen toward the end of last winter’s wave, she said.

“COVID remains a serious disease,” she said. “It’s different from the last two years, but it’s still a very challenging respiratory infection to manage.”

The CDC still deemed 16 Colorado counties at high risk from COVID-19, based on their cases and hospitalizations: Archuleta, Boulder, Broomfield, Dolores, Eagle, Fremont, Garfield, La Plata, Mesa, Montezuma, Phillips, Pitkin, Pueblo, Rio Blanco, San Juan and Sedgwick. All but seven Colorado counties had “substantial” or “high” transmission, based on cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive.

Nationwide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have started to rise more sharply after staying relatively flat during October and the first three weeks of November. Unlike some previous waves, this one doesn’t show a clear geographic pattern, and hospitalizations rose over the last two weeks in all but four states, according to data compiled by The New York Times.


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