Polis: COVID-19 Could Overwhelm Hospital Capacity by Year's End

Governor Jared Polis during a tour of sites impacted by wildfires last week.
Governor Jared Polis during a tour of sites impacted by wildfires last week.
During an October 27 press conference about COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis warned that the state will run short of hospital beds in mere months should Colorado fail to get the current rise in novel coronavirus cases under control.

"If the trends continue, they will exceed our hospitalization numbers from May by early to mid-November," Polis said. "And if we don't change what we're doing, they will exceed all hospital capacity by the end of the year. This thing moves quickly, and we need to change the way we live."

Polis was joined by three special guests during the media availability: Barbara Gould, Kim Powell and Clarence Troutman, all of whom survived the disease, albeit after hospitalizations and health struggles that still linger. Also on hand was Scott Bookman, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment COVID-19 incident commander, though his appearance was abbreviated because of technical difficulties. In addition, Polis discussed the ongoing wildfires in the state and expressed gratitude for the weekend snowstorm, which helped slow the growth of the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak blazes, now the two largest conflagrations in state history.

Still, the information about the viral spikes took center stage. Polis revealed that there were 1,433 new cases as of October 26, which he noted was in line with recent high levels, as well as 538 individuals currently hospitalized — a level not seen since springtime. Given that as many as forty states are seeing more infections, Colorado's experience is hardly unique, but the shared misery offers little comfort, particularly given positivity rates that have soared into the 7-8 percent range per 100,000 people.

According to stats shared by Polis, Colorado has around 8,444 medical beds and 1,849 emergency beds for all Colorado patients — those with any health issue, not just COVID-19. Surge capacity would offer an additional 12,588 medical beds 3,782 emergency beds and 2,214 alternative care sites. But officials would need one to four weeks to bring them all online.

The good news is that the average length of a hospital stay has decreased slightly since the initial rise of the virus, from six days to five, providing some wiggle room, and the number of hospitalized individuals who die from COVID-19 is also down; whereas 15 percent lost their lives early in the pandemic, between 4 and 7 percent are succumbing at present. But despite these improvements, officials still fear that the medical system will be strained unless the use of facial coverings and practices such as social distancing are improved over the period prior to the holiday season.

During a question-and-answer session with journalists, Polis again made it clear that he prefers a targeted approach to tightening health orders, as has happened over recent days in Denver and Adams counties, rather than a new statewide stay-at-home order. He also warned that the circumstances in which Colorado finds itself now will become more dire if a considerable percentage of residents continue to eschew proven safety practices.

"Unfortunately, there are Coloradans who aren't taking this seriously," he stressed.
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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