Coronavirus

COVID Variants of Concern Take Another Big Jump in Colorado

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock touring the new community-based vaccine clinic at Barnum rec center on March 10.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock touring the new community-based vaccine clinic at Barnum rec center on March 10. denvergov.org
The latest round of COVID-19 data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, released on March 14, offers reasons for both optimism and concern.

Hospitalizations because of the novel coronavirus have remained fairly steady in Colorado over the past seven days, and overall positive cases are down during the same period, though they've been rising in recent days and could increase even more once people are able to dig out from the major snowstorm that hit the area and get tested. Moreover, both COVID-19 variants of concern and variants under investigation took substantial leaps, even as authorities are grappling with the appearance of new infections of the South African version initially discovered at a Buena Vista jail.

Here are the fresh figures, updated after 4 p.m. on March 14. We've juxtaposed them with numbers from March 7, highlighted in our last COVID-19 roundup:

443,968 cases (up 7,366 from March 7)
312 variants of concern (up 122 from March 7)
196 variants under investigation (up 108 from March 7)
24,200 hospitalizations (up 296 from March 7)
64 counties (unchanged from March 7)
6,038 deaths among cases (up 49 from March 7)
6,072 deaths due to COVID-19 (up 77 from March 7)
4,080 outbreaks (up 111 from March 7)


Four major takeaways:

• The pace of COVID-19 cases had been steadily declining before February 28, before climbing the week that ended March 7, when the total surged by 8,299. Good news: New cases dipped to 7,366 on March 13.
• Hospitalization counts continue to slide. The 296 patient bump on March 14 is substantially less than the 428 calculated on March 7.
• In contrast, outbreaks appear to be trending up, going from 71 new entries on February 21 to 81 on February 28 to 90 on March 7 to 111 on March 14.
• The most important figures — deaths attributed to COVID-19 — are mixed. Deaths among cases where COVID-19 wasn't the definitive cause ratcheted to 49 on March 14, from 38 a week earlier. But the total number of deaths attributed to the virus were up by 77.

The CDPHE splits variants into two categories: variants of concern, defined as "a variant that may spread easier, cause more severe disease, reduce the effectiveness of treatments or vaccine, or is harder to detect using current tests," and variants under investigation, said to have "different characteristics of the original virus, but not yet considered a variant of concern." The numbers are based on "a small sampling of positive COVID-19 tests and do not represent the total number of variant cases that may be circulating in Colorado," the department emphasizes.

This last point is worrisome, given that variants of concern hiked from 190 on March 7 to 312 on March 14, with variants under investigation more than doubling, from 88 last week to 196 on March 14.

The state is not yet saying how many cases of each variant it's identified, but on March 12, the CDPHE revealed that its laboratory had detected five additional cases of the B.1.351 variant, first found in South Africa, at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex. All five involved incarcerated individuals whose samples were taken on March 1. A week later, the department hosted a vaccine clinic for staff and inmates, and more than 85 percent of the inmate population has now received at least one dose of the vaccine. In-person visitation and volunteering at the facility have been temporarily suspended, and supervisors have "increased the already robust cleaning protocols and provided additional cleaning supplies to the inmate population."

Also worrisome: New cases reported to state health authorities have been near or over 1,000 for each of the past five days:

March 13 — 947 Cases
March 12 — 1,136 Cases
March 11 — 1,033 Cases
March 10 — 1,089 Cases
March 9 — 959 Cases
March 8 — 756 Cases
March 7 — 598 Cases
March 6 — 848 Cases
March 5 — 955 Cases
March 4 — 1,154 Cases

Regarding the positivity rate, shorthanded by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins as "the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that are actually positive, or: (positive tests)/(total tests) x 100 percent," it hit 3.78 percent on the 14th, compared to 3.13 percent on March 7. But that gain could simply reflect a decrease in testing due to the weather, especially in light of the previous week's outpatient syndromic COVID-19 visits staying the same, at 3.92 percent.

At least hospitalizations aren't exhibiting huge spikes. Last week, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 briefly slid under 300, and while the figures are over that benchmark again, they're still relatively low. And new admissions continue to average out around fifty per day statewide.

See those statistics here:

Patients Currently Hospitalized for COVID-19

March 14, 2021
324 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
283 (87 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
41 (13 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 13, 2021
343 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
293 (85 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
50 (15 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 12, 2021
346 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
303 (88 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
43 (12 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 11, 2021
325 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
286 (88 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
39 (12 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 10, 2021
350 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
300 (86 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
50 (14 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 9, 2021
353 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
299 (85 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
54 (15 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 8, 2021
362 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
311 (86 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
51 (14 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 7, 2021
353 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
306 (87 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
47 (13 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 6, 2021
326 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
288 (88 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
38 (12 percent) Persons Under Investigation

March 5, 2021
356 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
311 (87 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
45 (13 percent) Persons Under Investigation

New Hospital Admissions by Admission Date

March 14, 2021
39 patients admitted to the hospital
47 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 13, 2021
51 patients admitted to the hospital
49 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 12, 2021
60 patients admitted to the hospital
49 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 11, 2021
41 patients admitted to the hospital
49 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 10, 2021
57 patients admitted to the hospital
51 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 9, 2021
27 patients admitted to the hospital
49 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 8, 2021
52 patients admitted to the hospital
51 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 7, 2021
55 patients admitted to the hospital
52 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 6, 2021
52 patients admitted to the hospital
50 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

March 5, 2021
61 patients admitted to the hospital
48 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

While most Colorado COVID-19 data is in something of a holding pattern — variant stats are an unfortunate exception.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts