The Colorado COVID-19 Spread Is Critical and So Are Vaccination Efforts

UCHealth worker and patient give thumbs up to camera

Photo Credit: UCHealth

As of January 3, 2022, more than 929,000 people in Colorado have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 50,700 have been hospitalized, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. On New Year’s Eve, the state broke a new one-day record with 11,018 new COVID-19 cases.

In response to the rapid surge, largely due to the omicron variant, new mask requirements are in place, more schools and universities are shifting to remote learning, and more vaccine sites are popping up throughout the state.

The good news is that hospitalization and serious illness are significantly lower among people who have been vaccinated against the virus — not only in Colorado but also across the country. Because vaccinated people diagnosed with COVID-19 are more likely to experience mild symptoms during this current surge, intensive care units aren’t as full and ventilators aren’t needed as much as they were before.

Richard Zane, M.D., executive director of emergency services at UCHealth, believes that the Aurora, Colorado-based health system is more prepared to manage the virus than last year. “We've learned some really great things over the last two years. We've learned how it spreads. We've learned when the peak contagious time is for the most part,” Zane said during an interview with Colorado Public Radio.

“People have to decide what their own risk tolerance is because it's not just about them getting sick. It's about getting other people sick ... other people they live and interact with,” Zane added.

His recommendations are straightforward: Get vaccinated if you haven't, and get a booster if you’re eligible.

To that end, UCHealth is making it easy for clinicians to monitor and track vaccination rates across the communities it serves. Hospital staff like Zane can easily check a patient’s vaccination status in the electronic health record and, if necessary, schedule a time for the patient to receive a shot at a UCHealth vaccination site. Hospital workers also can identify patients still hesitant to be vaccinated and conduct special outreach to address their concerns.

Corey Lyon, D.O., a family medicine specialist at A.F. Williams, a clinic within the UCHealth network, checks the EHR to verify the vaccination status of every patient he sees. If a patient has received the vaccine but it doesn’t show up in the system, Lyon can help get it recorded — which is a critical step in the vaccination process. For patients who are unvaccinated, Lyon has an opportunity to begin a dialogue about the vaccine’s safety and benefits. For Lyon, it’s about listening first to a patient’s concerns and then presenting his best case for getting the shot.

“My explanations to patients include how the vaccine goes into our muscle cells, and helps our cells make a protein that looks like a COVID protein,” Lyon said. “At that time, when our body sees that protein, it makes antibodies to it. Then, if you are exposed to COVID, your antibodies are already made to recognize the COVID protein and stimulate an immune response. Once the mRNA helps our cells make that protein, it quickly disappears.”

UCHealth continually updates its COVID-19 vaccine website pages with the latest information on how people can get their first series of the vaccines or booster shots. The online resource offers the latest vaccine science, CDC updates and recommendations, and a list of vaccination sites. People can schedule an appointment directly or call the hospital’s COVID-19 hotline.