Officials: Colorado could see record COVID hospitalizations

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point during a news conference about Colorado offering coronavirus vaccinations to children, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Denver. Colorado is also seeing an increase in overall coronavirus cases, which is putting stress on the state’s hospital systems. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER | Colorado plans to expand hospital capacity and staffing amid an ongoing surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations that could surpass a record high for the state set in 2020, Gov. Jared Polis told a pandemic task force Wednesday.

Polis said Colorado also is consulting with local governments on vaccination requirements for certain indoor events in hard-hit communities, Colorado Politics reported. His remarks came during a meeting of the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee.

Colorado’s hospital and intensive care capacity is being tested by the latest case surge, with roughly 1,426 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said. If the trajectory holds, the state could hit 2,258 COVID-19 hospitalizations by Jan. 1, she said. That compares with a high of 1,841 patients hospitalized last December.

Polis said he’s working with health care providers to add as many as 500 beds by adjusting staffing, repurposing hospital units and making other changes in existing facilities, in contrast to the separate field hospital units built with state and federal support earlier in the pandemic.

The state also is considering bringing in retired and out-of-state nurses and providers, Polis said. On Tuesday, the state issued a staffing rule allowing licensed health care providers more flexibility in tending to the sick.

The delta variant surge combined with hospital staffing shortages has left roughly 720 total beds available in intensive care and acute care units, Cara Welch, spokeswoman for the Colorado Hospital Association, told Colorado Politics.

“We hope the state and FEMA can provide additional support, especially staff, to help us surge additional beds as we will absolutely need those in the weeks and months ahead,” Welch said. Already, a crisis health team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is assisting a hospital in Pueblo.