Those looking for hope for Christmas had some glimpses on Wednesday, as Colorado health officials reported that deaths from the fall in COVID-19 in the fall are finally starting to decline, outbreaks are decreasing and vaccine shipments next week’s appear to be on schedule.
Coronavirus-related deaths peaked at the end of last week and have been declining for a few days, said epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy during a call with reporters.
The state recorded 454 deaths in the first week of December and 389 in the second week, which means that the number of deaths from COVID-19 was 80% higher than in the two worst weeks of the spring wave.
Hospitalizations and new cases are also declining, reaching levels last recorded in early November. But the virus remains widespread and hospital staff are still dealing with “incredible stress,” said Scott Bookman, commander of the state’s COVID-19 incident.
“We have made a lot of progress, but we still have a long way to go,” he said.
As of Wednesday, 1,336 people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 were hospitalized across the state, as that number has continued to drop since the December 1 peak, although it is still higher than during the initial pandemic peak in the spring. The state has reported 4,462 virus-related deaths since March.
Bookman and Herlihy made a final appeal to the public to stay home and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve only with the people they live with, and to avoid crowded stores by shopping online or picking up on the sidewalk. Colorado did not see an increase in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving, although some states have.
“If we can do this again, we can prepare to open schools in January,” said Herlihy. “What you did on Thanksgiving Day worked.”
Outbreaks fall for the first time since September
The state health department reported 1,273 active outbreaks of the new coronavirus on Wednesday. That was 39 less than the previous week, and the first time the number of outbreaks has dropped since the beginning of September.
An outbreak consists of two or more cases linked to the same place or event and does not end before four weeks without new cases.
But it was not all good news. The number of outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities has increased. More than half of Colorado’s nursing homes have a current outbreak, and these clusters have been associated with 6,152 cases and 438 deaths.
Outbreaks have been stable or have subsided in most other settings, including schools, restaurants and offices. They increased slightly at retail locations.
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Colorado will receive about 32,900 doses of the Modern vaccine next week, as well as 51,000 from Pfizer, said General Scott Sherman of the Colorado National Guard, who is overseeing the distribution of the vaccine. Most of Pfizer’s injections go to pharmacies, which will immunize employees and residents of long-term care facilities, he said.
Last week, Colorado and other states unexpectedly discovered that they would receive fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine than expected this week. Colorado was not scheduled to receive any vaccines from Pfizer next week, so doses next week will be more than enough for those who did not arrive this week, Sherman said.
“We are on the right track and we are receiving 3,000 more doses than we expected,” he said.
As of Wednesday, the state had administered 43,749 doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
In some cases, health facilities vaccinated people of a lower priority level, such as police officers, due to time constraints, said Sherman. The first priority group within Phase 1 includes the front-line staff in medical facilities that work more closely with COVID-19 patients and staff from the nursing home and residents. It is not necessarily expected that everyone in the first group gets the vaccine before anyone in the second group does, he said.
“After you pierce the bottle, you have six hours to use the vaccine,” he said. “A shot in anyone’s arm is better than a missed vaccine.”
Distribution has been relatively smooth so far, with Colorado giving injections to healthcare professionals faster than in some states, said Dr. Andrew French, vice president of quality, safety and clinical operations at Centura Health. Centura facilities were able to use almost all the doses they received in 72 hours, he said.
“I think in Colorado we have been very effective,” he said.