covid (copy)

Registered nurse Gail Balbier adjusts a patient’s IV pump inside one of the ICU units at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital that are dedicated to patients with COVID-19. 

More than 9,000 Coloradans have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020, state data shows, with a recent spike in mortality occurring in large part among the unvaccinated and driven by the year's worst pandemic surge.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 9,027 Coloradans have died from the virus. While it took the state roughly three and a half months to climb from 7,000 to 8,000 deaths, a mark it hit Oct. 12, it took just over a month to go up by another 1,000. Like hospitalizations, the bulk of the dead are unvaccinated: State data indicates that in September, for instance, there were 421 deaths in September. Three-hundred and thirty-seven of those who died - or 80% - were unvaccinated. 

But even that data doesn't give the full picture of disproportionate risk borne by the unvaccinated because older residents — more susceptible to severe disease, even if vaccinated — are more likely to be inoculated. The average age of death among vaccinated residents, for instance, is 80. For unvaccinated Coloradans, it's 74. The rate of death for vaccinated residents was roughly 22 per one million people in September. For unvaccinated, it was 293 per one million.

Rachel Herlihy, the state's epidemiologist, said unvaccinated Coloradans are more than 13 times more likely to die than their inoculated peers. They're also 10 times more likely to be hospitalized: As of Wednesday afternoon, 82% of patients filling Colorado's hospital beds are not vaccinated.

Gov. Jared Polis has said repeatedly in recent weeks that now is the most dangerous time in the pandemic for people who haven't been inoculated. Though mortality has improved since the pandemic began thanks to advancements in treatment, the delta variant is more transmissible and potentially more severe than previous strains of the virus. The new variant accounts for virtually all of cases in Colorado now, Herlihy said.

The 9,027 deaths were caused directly by the virus; there is a separate toll for people who died with the virus. The data is collected and reported based on information on death certificates, the state Department of Public Health and Environment said Wednesday. There is often a lag between when a person dies from COVID-19 and when it's reported in state data, meaning Colorado likely surpassed 9,000 before Wednesday. But the state published data Wednesday indicating it had surpassed this latest, grim milestone.

Amid the current crisis, which has brought an unprecedented risk to hospital capacity statewide, deaths have jumped well above where they had been for much of 2021. At least 100 Coloradans have died in nine of the last 10 weeks, with the 10th coming in just a shade under 100. There hadn't been a single week where more than 100 people died since February, when the state was emerging from its late 2020 surge. One-hundred and seventy-five Coloradans died in the third week of October; that was the highest weekly toll since mid-January. 

Since the pandemic began, El Paso County — which makes up nearly the same share of the state's population as Denver — has accounted for the most deaths: 1,359, or 15.2%. Many of those deaths predate the vaccine's arrival. But roughly 300 El Paso County residents have died in the past month alone.

Fewer than 65% of the county's eligible residents have been fully inoculated, compared to 80% in Denver and nearly 73% statewide. Its vaccination rate trails every county in the metro area.

Sign Up For Free: Denver AM Update

Your morning rundown of the latest news from overnight and the stories to follow throughout the day.

Success! Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Health reporter

Seth Klamann is the health reporter for the Gazette, focused on COVID-19, public health and substance use. He's a Kansas City native and a University of Missouri alum, with stops in Wyoming, Omaha and Milwaukee before moving to Denver.