By Alan Gionet

(CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Thursday pointed out the difference in COVID rates between Colorado’s more and less vaccinated counties has become a stark comparison.

(credit: CBS)

There are over 1,100 people in Colorado hospitals testing positive for COVID and 80% percent of those are unvaccinated. In places like the Denver metro area where vaccination rates are higher, “You’ll see that those are also the counties where we’re seeing the lowest hospitalization rates right now,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy in Gov. Jared Polis’s Thursday afternoon news conference.

The state showed graphs indicating much higher rates in some of the lowest vaccinated counties, like Pueblo County. The seven county Denver metro area (comprised of the following counties: Denver, Arapahoe, Douglas, Adams, Jefferson, Boulder and Broomfield) has 56.2% of the state’s population and 39.1% of hospital admissions, said Herlihy. Compare that with counties with lower vaccination rates like Larimer County and Weld County. The two counties in northern Colorado comprise 11.8% of the population and 16.1% of hospital admissions. Larimer County’s vaccination rate is nearly 10% below that of Denver, and Weld County’s is more than 15% lower.

(credit: CBS)

The state further divided it by age group.

“There is some variability across age groups but overall we see that hospitalization rates are 8 to 20 times higher in unvaccinated individuals than vaccinated individuals,” said Herlihy.

In Larimer County, the Board of Health got an update from Northern Colorado UCHealth hospital CEO and President Kevin Unger Thursday night.

“We’re at 115 ICU utilization at Medical Center of the Rockies, 133% at Poudre Valley and 111% in Greeley. Meaning that we’re doubling up a number of our ICU beds at this point and people are truly tired,” said Unger who heads UCHealth hospitals in Larimer and Weld County.

“They’re getting up in the morning and doing what they can to take care of patients, but the troops are getting weary,” he said.

Larimer County Health and Environment’s public health director Tom Gonzales remains frustrated by the hospitalization levels.

“We’re asking our state health department, the governor’s office. We need help here. We need assistance,” he explained. “Right now we’ve got only one or two ventilators available, and that’s concerning when somebody needs that treatment to stay alive.”

Not all of the patients in the ICUs are suffering from COVID. Part of the reason is that Colorado is far more open than it was nearly a year ago when cases surged.

“We’re seeing trauma and we’re also seeing folks that delayed non-urgent medical situations at the time, now they’ve become urgent,” Gonzales said.

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He hoped the state would help shift patients to other hospitals to relieve the burden.

“There are some steps and levels we can do before we go to the crisis standards of care… that’s when decisions are made who gets treated and who doesn’t get treated.”

All three medical experts made new pleas for more vaccination. Gonzales believes that the vaccine’s approval at first, often comes up.

“You know I think it’s part of the emergency use authorization of the vaccine we suspect. We were hopeful once that got removed, especially with Pfizer, that we would see an uptick. We saw a small uptick.” But not as much as they hoped.

Among the current hospitalized patients they have noted an increase in deaths as well as cases in hospitals in a younger age set.

“We’re seeing much younger, upper 30s, 40s that have passed away recently here in Larimer County.”

Polis also talked about the age differential among the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

“The average age of a vaccinated person in the hospital is 73. … The average age of unvaccinated in our hospitals is 57.”

Herlihy and other doctors have noted that the breakthrough cases are nearly always among older Coloradans and those with co-morbidities.

He hoped for relief from the state for hospitals.

“We can’t let our hospital system collapse. That’s our safety net.”

And from the public in getting vaccinated.

“We need to get at least 15% more vaccinated. That’s about 45,000 more people in Larimer County.”

Alan Gionet