As COVID-19 surges, Colorado hits lowest number of ICU beds available statewide

22 Mar.,2023


Colorado has reached its lowest icu bed capacity of any point in the pandemic, with just 197 beds available across the state. The number of hospitalizations is also near a record, now at its second-highest amount since the pandemic started last spring. 

State leaders are pleading with Coloradans to get vaccinated, though Gov. Jared Polis has shifted his approach from asking the unvaccinated to get the shot in order to protect their neighbors to now asking them to get inoculated for their own safety. 

“It's because you care about your own health and you want to protect yourself, and that's really why you should make the decision to get vaccinated,” he said at a Friday morning press conference. 

With fewer than 200 ICU beds open across Colorado, Scott Bookman, Colorado’s COVID-19 incident commander, said hospitals are beginning to activate their surge plans, cancel elective surgeries and close associated clinics to bring more staff into hospitals.

In Larimer County, ICU utilization has been fluctuating between 100% and 110% over the past week.

Bookman explained “the difference between this wave and all future or all past waves is that Coloradans have returned to their normal lives.”

He said fewer ICU beds are available because people are getting surgeries they may have postponed during the pandemic, doing more daily activities resulting in injury and returning to activities that can result in trauma, thus additional beds are being used. 

“I cannot stress enough the state that our hospitals are currently in today, the stress that they are feeling, the impact of this wave is having on them,” Bookman said.

 “... The burden of the unvaccinated on our hospitals is profound and it impacts all Coloradans, because those who are vaccinated will struggle to get the same level of care and hospital that they would get if there were fewer hospitalizations.”

Need a COVID test?:Here's where to go in Larimer County

Just over 900 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado as of Friday, according to state data. And while the number is lower than the national trend, it has been “steadily increasing” without a sign of decline, according to state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy.

The vast majority of people in the hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, said Polis, who added that “we would not have any type of crisis in hospitals with regard to capacity if everybody was vaccinated.”

Of those hospitalized on Thursday, 81% were not fully vaccinated, state officials said Friday. 

The only time the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has been higher was during last winter’s wave of the pandemic when the number hit more than 1,800. 

Polis had previously said that ICU and hospital capacity were a “North Star” for the state in determining whether a mask mandate or other statewide measures would be implemented. While Colorado is not yet at that point, he said health officials are continuing to closely watch the metric.

Cases across the state have seen a slight decrease in the past few days, with more than 2,100 new cases being reported Thursday, bringing the state's total to 632,699, according to state data. However, Herlihy cautioned against celebrating the decline until more data comes in from the holiday weekend. 

Previous coverage:Larimer County ICU beds have been above or at capacity, up from typical 80%

School-aged children ages 6-17 continue to have the highest rate of disease transmission of any age group, Herlihy said; just 56.8% of 12- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated. 

Colorado also hit a positive milestone in the pandemic on Thursday with 75% of all eligible Coloradans having at least one dose of the vaccine.

“It's an important accomplishment. But it also means that there's 25%, one in four Coloradans who are eligible, who still need to go out and get protected so that we can end this pandemic,” Polis said.

He briefly addressed President Joe Biden’s announcements about vaccine mandates that will impact tens of millions of Americans but noted that he doesn’t have much information beyond what the public knows. 

He urged people to not wait on the mandate to take effect or be enforced to get the shot. 

“We really find ourselves at a unique point in this pandemic: We know how to end it, but we need the will to do it,” Polis said. “... People shouldn’t have to wait until their employer, their president, (or) others tell them to get it; you should seek it out.” 

Related:Larimer County has more than 20 active outbreaks. Here are the new ones this week.

Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.