Social distancing down, coronavirus transmission up in Colorado

DENVER (KDVR) — The latest report from Colorado’s COVID-19 modeling team shows the coronavirus is quickly spreading in the state and could cause hospital intensive care unit beds to fill up in about five weeks.

“Being on this path is not where we want to be right now,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy as she outlined some of the report this week.

Colorado hospitals have about 1,800 ICU beds. The report predicts they could be full as soon as Aug. 25 if social distancing drops to 30 percent. It was at 87 percent in May and fell to just 41 percent at the beginning of July.

“That’s a real warning for all of us in Colorado,” said Dr. Glen Mays, the chair and professor in the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy in the Colorado School of Public Health.

The modeling report also detailed a sharp increase in the transmission of the coronavirus. That’s partly represented by the reproductive value – the number that shows how many people someone with the coronavirus infects.

“If we can keep that number under one, that’s what leads a pandemic to run itself down to the rim,” Mays said.

During the stay-at-home orders, the reproductive value in Colorado was 0.5. By June it had more than doubled to 1.08. And at the beginning of July it jumped to 1.78.

The report repeatedly points out – these are predictions – and can change if people change their behaviors.

“We’re not without tools,” Mays said. “We know from previous months that we can bend the curve on these kinds of infections. We have more tools and more evidence now.”

One tool is the new statewide mask mandate. Public health experts expect to see results from how it affects the spread of the virus starting in two weeks. Another tool could be more statewide restrictions, which the state is hoping to avoid.