Coronavirus

Colorado Is Top COVID-19 Hot Spot in the U.S.

This May 18 map showing the two-week cumulative incidence rate of COVID-19 cases reveals that ten counties are currently at Level Red.
This May 18 map showing the two-week cumulative incidence rate of COVID-19 cases reveals that ten counties are currently at Level Red. covid19.colorado.gov
COVID-19 restrictions are disappearing across the vast majority of Colorado, with mask and physical distancing requirements for fully vaccinated people in most indoor and outdoor settings removed and capacity limits lifted. But that doesn't mean the pandemic is over in this state.

Far from it. According to the state-by-state tracking system maintained by the New York Times, Colorado's COVID-19 data is the worst in the entire country as of today, May 18. And the state has been at or near the bottom of the roster frequently in recent weeks.

To put things in perspective, Colorado is currently five slots worse than Florida.

The state's status may seem surprising, given that COVID-19 case and hospitalization counts continue to fall in Colorado; the Times shows declines of 31 percent and 6 percent, respectively, over the most recent fourteen-day period. But Colorado's case rate of twenty per 100,000 people is tied with Michigan's for the highest in the U.S. right now, and the Michigan figures are improving more quickly than Colorado's. Over the past two weeks, Michigan has seen a 48 percent dive in cases and a hospitalization dip of 32 percent.


On May 17, President Joe Biden announced that COVID-19 cases were down in all fifty states, but hospitalizations are actually up for three (West Virginia, Washington and Oregon), and vaccination rates for the Times's bottom ten are all under 50 percent. Maine is the top finisher among these states, with 49 percent of its populace vaccinated; Colorado sits at 41 percent.

That leaves 59 percent of Coloradans not yet fully protected against the virus, and an increasing number of experts fear that lifting restrictions actually disincentivizes vaccination for those who've been putting off getting the shots. On Twitter on May 17, CNN medical expert Dr. Leana Wen argued that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "got the science right: Vaccines are extraordinary at protecting against #covid19. But they got the communication wrong. We are seeing the dramatic (& I think unintended) consequences of their statements, which have led to the premature ending of mask mandates."

If Wen is right, Colorado could be among the first to feel negative repercussions — since it currently ranks last among the fifty states.

Here are the New York Times's current COVID-19 bottom ten.

1. Colorado
Cases daily average: 1,170
Cases per 100,000: 20
Fourteen-day change: -31 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 687
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 12
Fourteen-day change: -6 percent
Deaths daily average: 14
Deaths per 100,000: 0.24
Fully vaccinated: 41 percent

2. Michigan
Cases daily average: 1,989
Cases per 100,000: 20
Fourteen-day change: -48 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 2,188
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 22
Fourteen-day change: -32 percent
Deaths daily average: 57.3
Deaths per 100,000: 0.57
Fully vaccinated: 39 percent

3. Maine
Cases daily average: 244
Cases per 100,000: 18
Fourteen-day change: -18 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 135
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 10
Fourteen-day change: -4 percent
Deaths daily average: 1.1
Deaths per 100,000: 0.09
Fully vaccinated: 49 percent

4. West Virginia
Cases daily average: 289
Cases per 100,000: 16
Fourteen-day change: -20 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 286
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 16
Fourteen-day change: +7 percent
Deaths daily average: 4.7
Deaths per 100,000: 0.26
Fully vaccinated: 33 percent

5. Minnesota
Cases daily average: 866
Cases per 100,000: 15
Fourteen-day change: -44 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 551
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 10
Fourteen-day change: -23 percent
Deaths daily average: 9.3
Deaths per 100,000: 0.16
Fully vaccinated: 42 percent

6. Florida
Cases daily average: 3,125
Cases per 100,000: 15
Fourteen-day change: -35 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 3,356
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 16
Fourteen-day change: -10 percent
Deaths daily average: 50.0
Deaths per 100,000: 0.23
Fully vaccinated: 36 percent

7. Washington
Cases daily average: 1,101
Cases per 100,000: 14
Fourteen-day change: -22 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 800
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 11
Fourteen-day change: +1 percent
Deaths daily average: 9.7
Deaths per 100,000: 0.13
Fully vaccinated: 41 percent

8. Oregon
Cases daily average: 595
Cases per 100,000: 14
Fourteen-day change: -24 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 397
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 9
Fourteen-day change: +1 percent
Deaths daily average: 9.6
Deaths per 100,000: 0.23
Fully vaccinated: 39 percent

9. Pennsylvania
Cases daily average: 1,762
Cases per 100,000: 14
Fourteen-day change: -45 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 2,030
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 16
Fourteen-day change: -25 percent
Deaths daily average: 41.9
Deaths per 100,000: 0.33
Fully vaccinated: 39 percent

10. Delaware
Cases daily average: 120
Cases per 100,000: 12
Fourteen-day change: -48 percent
Hospitalized daily average: 104
Hospitalizations per 100,000: 11
Fourteen-day change: -41 percent
Deaths daily average: 1.4
Deaths per 100,000: 0.15
Fully vaccinated: 39 percent
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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