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COVID-19 Variant Cases in Colorado Triple in a Week

Dr. Rachel Herlihy is an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
colorado.gov via YouTube
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The latest update about COVID-19 in Colorado is dominated by data that generally continues to trend in the right direction, led by the number of new hospitalizations on February 7, which were in the single digits. But there's a warning sign in the stats: Case numbers for variants of the disease, which are transmitted more easily than the original coronavirus strain, have more than tripled over the past seven days.

The number of variant cases cited by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment remains modest — 37 as of February 7. But on January 31, there were only twelve, up just two from the week before. Moreover, the department concedes in a footnote to its data page that current estimates "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."

Here are the most recent statistics, updated at 4:30 p.m. on February 7; we've juxtaposed them with numbers from January 31, highlighted in last week's roundup about the novel coronavirus. Since then, the department has added a new category: "variants under investigation."

405,289 cases (up 9,110 from January 31)
37 variants of concern (up 25 from January 31)
16 variants under investigation (new category)
22,306 hospitalized (up 473 from January 31)
64 counties (unchanged from January 31)
5,731 deaths among cases (up 94 from January 31)
5,454 deaths due to COVID-19 (up 526 from January 31)
3,627 outbreaks (up 125 from January 31)

Four major takeaways:

• The rate of COVID-19 cases, which dipped below 10,000 for the first time in months on January 31, slowed even further: 9,110 new cases for the week ending on February 7, compared to 9,894 a week prior.

• New hospitalizations also fell by a triple-digit amount — from 596 for the week ending January 31 to 473 on February 7.

• There's an apparent contradiction in the death figures. Deaths among cases (meaning passings of people with the virus that haven't been directly attributed to COVID-19) dropped rom 132 on January 31 to 94 on February 7. But deaths due to COVID-19 went way up: The 526 on February 7 is more than twice as high as the 219 on January 31. However, this is most like the result of a lag in reporting at the county level after the recent holiday season rather than a sudden flood of disease casualties.

• New outbreaks are up from 100 on January 31 to 125 on February 7 — a reminder that site-based transmission is still a major problem, despite adjustments to the CDPHE's county monitoring system, known as Dial 2.0.

And then there's the matter of variants. Previously, the CDPHE measured them in a single category, but the department has now split them into two: "variants of concern" and "variants under investigation." According to the explanatory note, a variant of concern "may spread easier, cause more severe disease, reduce the effectiveness of treatments or vaccine, or is harder to detect using current tests." Meanwhile, variants under investigation are defined as "variants with different characteristics of the original virus, but not yet considered a variant of concern." The numbers suggest that the number of variant cases in Colorado could actually be 53, nearly five times higher than the previous week's total.

Meanwhile, overall cases of COVID-19 are generally dropping in Colorado. Here's the total by the date they were reported to the state during the past ten days:

February 6, 2021 — 898 Cases
February 5, 2021 — 1,216 Cases
February 4, 2021 — 1,798 Cases
February 3, 2021 — 1,425 Cases
February 2, 2021 — 1,350 Cases
February 1, 2021 — 807 Cases
January 31, 2021 — 884 Cases
January 30, 2021 — 1,180 Cases
January 29, 2021 — 1,513 Cases
January 28, 2021 — 1,646 Cases

The seven-day average positivity rate, defined 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," is also getting lower: 4.33 percent versus 4.91 percent on January 31. And the percentage of previous week outpatient syndromic COVID visits slipped, too, from 4.29 on January 31 to 4.09 a week later.

Current hospitalizations for the disease had just been in the 600 to 700 range, so the latest ten-day period shows considerable improvement — and the news surrounding daily hospitalizations is even better. The state counted just seven new hospitalizations on the February 7, and while that may turn out to be an anomaly, it's still a welcome one.

Patients Currently Hospitalized for COVID-19

February 7, 2021
527 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
467 (89 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
60 (11 percent) Persons Under Investigation

February 6, 2021
538 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
479 (89 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
59 (11 percent) Persons Under Investigation

February 5, 2021
564 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
502 (89 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
62 (11 percent) Persons Under Investigation

February 4, 2021
595 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
538 (90 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
57 (10 percent) Persons Under Investigation

February 3, 2021
572 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
521 (91 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
51 (9 percent) Persons Under Investigation

February 2, 2021
599 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
529 (88 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
70 (12 percent) Persons Under Investigation

February 1, 2021
611 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
556 (91 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
55 (9 percent) Persons Under Investigation

January 31, 2021
611 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
558 (91 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
53 (9 percent) Persons Under Investigation

January 30, 2021
648 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
583 (90 percent) Confirmed COVID-19
65 (10 percent) Persons Under Investigation

January 29, 2021

652 Total COVID Patients (Confirmed & Suspected/PUI)
596 (91%) Confirmed COVID-19
56 (9%) Persons Under Investigation

New Hospital Admissions by Admission Date

February 7, 2021
7 patients admitted to the hospital
58 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

February 6, 2021
58 patients admitted to the hospital
67 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

February 5, 2021
50 patients admitted to the hospital
65 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

February 4, 2021
73 patients admitted to the hospital
67 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

February 3, 2021
80 patients admitted to the hospital
69 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

February 2, 2021
61 patients admitted to the hospital
72 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

February 1, 2021
79 patients admitted to the hospital
85 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

January 31, 2021
65 patients admitted to the hospital
85 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

January 30, 2021
45 patients admitted to the hospital
94 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

January 29, 2021
68 patients admitted to the hospital
97 seven-day average of patients admitted to the hospital

Could variants result in an explosion of new cases that require a tightening of restrictions just as they've been loosened again? State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy has yet to address this topic during her appearances alongside Governor Jared Polis at his COVID-19 press conferences. But in the meantime, those numbers bear watching even as others offer reason for optimism. 

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