Colorado once looked like it had gotten a grip on the coronavirus. Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, is a zealous mask wearer who imposed a statewide mandate. Hospitalization levels stayed low for much of the summer and fall. The state even began dismantling two emergency field hospitals it set up early in the pandemic.
But that grip has slipped. Daily reports of new cases are soaring to record heights, and the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has tripled since early September.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is now warning that hospitalizations in the state are likely to blast through the peaks of last April and could overwhelm the state’s intensive care units by January.
“It’s really a very scary rise,” Dr. Jonathan Samet, the dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said in an interview. “Clearly, Coloradans have lapsed.”
Health officials said there was no single reason or particular hot spot fueling the increase in the state this time, unlike earlier spikes that were driven by outbreaks in long-term care homes and meatpacking plants or by students partying at the University of Colorado.
The state health department estimated that one in every 219 people in Colorado is infectious, making it likelier now than it was in the summer for uninfected people to catch the virus.
Colder weather and early snowstorms are starting to drive people back indoors. Mountain towns that rely on winter tourists are now torn: Do they accept the pain of shutting down the restaurants and bars that bring in the après-ski dollars, or do they let their communities become hubs of coronavirus transmission?
Denver, which reported a record 461 cases one day last week, has imposed tighter limits on retailers, offices and public gatherings and ordered people to wear face masks outdoors. A dozen counties across the state have also ratcheted restrictions back up.
Dr. Samet said pandemic fatigue and people’s yearning for normalcy after months of lockdown and mask wearing may be playing a part in the recent surge.
“Everybody’s impatient,” he said. “People want to have their lives back. But it’s too early to do that.”
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