How Wyoming Is Making Colorado's COVID Pandemic Worse

New COVID-19 statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment unveiled during Governor Jared Polis's September 21 press conference suggest that case and hospitalization rates in at least two northern counties in the state may be high because they're so close to Wyoming.

According to state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the COVID numbers in Wyoming are among the highest in the country. As a result, more Wyoming residents are requiring hospitalizations, and those who choose to receive medical care in Colorado could be responsible for rising patient counts in Larimer and Weld counties, whose stats are both above the state average — significantly so, in the case of Weld.

Polis began his presentation by offering some Colorado-centric numbers. As of today, he noted, 876 people in the state are hospitalized for COVID-19, a decrease of fourteen from the previous day. While he expressed hope that this indicates a downward trend, he acknowledged that it's too soon to tell with any certainty. He also noted that 1,779 new COVID-19 cases have been recorded today in Colorado — and while that number may seem high, Colorado currently has the sixth-lowest per capita infection rate of any state in the country. Moreover, just fourteen children in the state are currently hospitalized with COVID — eight younger than age eleven, and six between the ages of twelve and seventeen.

But there are other reasons for concern. For instance, Polis noted that the state's positivity rate for today registered at 6.29 percent, well above the 5 percent goal set by officials.

At that point in the presentation, Polis highlighted the state's acquisition of two million Binax home-test kits, which will be made available to anyone who requests them; a package of eight can be ordered online and should arrive within four to seven days. He's hopeful the demand for these kits for home use will be higher than it's been for kids in schools; supplies are stacking up in school storage rooms, even though the state is offering to pay children regular $10 stipends for participating in the program.

Next up was Herlihy, who conceded that case and hospitalization rates have been bouncing around following the Labor Day holiday. And while the stats finally seem to be declining in at least a modest way, she warned about the possibility of another spike as temperatures cool and people begin spending more time indoors. She also shared a graphic once again demonstrating that parts of the state with lower vaccination rates tend to see more hospitalizations — another indication that immunizations are the best protection against the disease. Approximately 80 to 85 percent of people hospitalized for the virus haven't been inoculated, she estimated.

After celebrating the federal government's approval of booster shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as front-line workers such as health-care professionals and teachers, and encouraging regulators to expeditiously approve Pfizer shots for kids between five and eleven, Polis answered questions. He suggested that hospitals hoping to be granted exceptions to vaccine requirements because of staffing issues could be in danger of losing Medicare and Medicaid funding, but admitted that retaining employees in the field is a serious problem that is likely to be addressed by legislators in early 2022. He also said the percentage of state workers who've been vaccinated is slightly above the state average — 78 percent versus 76 percent — and predicted that more employees in this category will be rolling up their sleeves in the days ahead. Those who refuse immunization will have to be tested frequently to make sure they're not infecting their colleagues, and Polis predicted that there'll be more than enough test kits for this purpose.

Even in Larimer and Weld counties, despite their proximity to Wyoming.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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