Precautionary COVID-19 signage is affixed to the front entrance of North Middle School, Oct. 27, 2020. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado
State COVID-19 alerts for Oct. 27, 2020

DENVER | With the trajectory the state is currently on, the number of COVID-19 cases could overwhelm Colorado’s hospital system by the end of the year, Gov. Jared Polis warned in a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

Local pandemic reports today reflect the grim news as Arapahoe County’s COVID-19 matrix was downgraded because of rising infections. Now, Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties are slowly moving toward stay-at-home orders. Local and state health officials are pleading for residents to take action now. 

The state has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the growing case rate, and Polis once again delivered a somber message about how serious the pandemic trajectory appears. The state is currently at an all-time high of detected COVID-19 cases (though there may have been more total cases in the spring when there was less testing) and is seeing positivity rates of 7%-8%, Polis said.

Health officials set 5% positivity as the cap for requiring restrictions on gatherings and businesses.

Hospitalizations have steadily risen over the past seven weeks and are in danger of exceeding ICU capacity if the trajectory is not reversed, officials said.

“This thing moves quick, and we need to change the way we live,” Polis said.

The good news is that mortality rates for people hospitalized have decreased — likely in part because more young people are now being hospitalized. In March, those who were hospitalized for the virus had a 15% chance of dying, that has decreased to 4-7%.

However, even those who survive have a long road ahead of them. Polis invited several Coloradans who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and survived to share their experiences of the disease.

Boulder resident Barbara Gould began to feel sick in mid-March after returning home from a vacation, and in April became seriously ill and was taken to the hospital. After three days she had to be intubated, but even after 15 days she still wasn’t improving.

“It was clear by then that I was dying,” she said.

In a last-chance effort, she was transferred from Boulder to UCHealth and placed on an ECMO machine, and eventually she started to get better. In total, she was hospitalized for 91 days and on a ventilator for 65 days.

After being removed from the ventilator she couldn’t lift her head, and had to relearn how to swallow. She could barely speak. All her hair fell out. She still needs supplemental oxygen, and her strength is a fraction of what it was. It’s too soon to know whether the changes will be permanent.

“I was a healthy active person pre-COVID, and I have a long road ahead of me still,” she said.

During her illness she did not meet all the criteria for being placed on an ECMO machine, but UCHealth accepted her anyway. She is certain that if UCHealth did not have the capacity to treat her, she would have died.

Nurse practitioner Kim Powell loves hiking in the mountains, running, singing and playing the drums. After a bout with COVID-19, she needs oxygen for anything more than a slow walk to the mailbox.

“I was essentially plucked from life as I knew it,” she said.

Powell spent several days in the hospital in the summer and is still battling to get back to normal. 

“It’s affected every organ in my body and every person in my life,” she said.

Clarence Troutman spent almost a month in a coma while on a ventilator after contracting COVID-19. Like Gould, he had to relearn how to eat and speak. He was discharged after 58 days in the hospital, but he is still dealing with long-term complications from the disease.

When he hears people say that COVID-19 is no big deal or that it isn’t real, it upsets him.

“It’s 100% real and we can’t do too much to be safe and protect ourselves,” he said.

The state has surge hospital capacity that can be activated if cases continue to climb, but Polis encouraged Coloradans to do everything they can to help slow the spread of the disease.

“If we don’t do better in Colorado then more Coloradans will die unnecessarily,” he said.

In Arapahoe County, cases have continued to rise. The county warning matrix is being downgraded from a level 1 to a level 2 in the “safer at home” phase.

The county’s COVID incidence rate is 299.47 and its positivity rate is 6.95%, according to a press release from the board of commissioners. 

The change in levels will decrease the number of attendees allowed in restaurants, gyms and indoor and outdoor events.

“We share everyone’s frustration at these restrictions, but our numbers are rising in ways that jeopardize our ability to keep the County open without further mitigation efforts,” commissioner Nancy N. Sharpe said in the release.