COVID-19 is in a sustained retreat in Colorado, new state data shows, driving hospitalization and case rates to their lowest levels since August.

The state has averaged fewer than 1,000 cases per day over the past week, the lowest mark since Aug. 8. The declining numbers solidify hopes that Colorado is finally emerging from five months of nearly uninterrupted case and hospitalization rate increases, fueled by the delta and omicron variants. Based on high levels of immunity gained from the latter surge, plus the state's relatively high vaccination rate, Colorado officials believe the state is in for a quiet spring.

On Jan. 21, Colorado had averaged about 10,353 new COVID-19 cases every day. It was a dip from the peak a week before, but it was still higher than any point in the pandemic pre-omicron. In the month since, that number has plummeted to 936 new cases each day. While the state was under that level for much of last summer, it's still lower than anything experienced between mid-October 2020 and early March 2021, or between mid-August 2021 and now. 

Hospitalizations have shown a similarly solid decline. There were 446 Coloradans hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, down more than 1,200 since Jan. 18's tally of 1,676. The decline has been sharper than previous downturns, including late 2020's emergence from that surge. 

Modeling released last week by a team of academics in Colorado projects that hospitalizations could dip below 250 by the end of the month. If that were to happen, it would be the first time there'd be 250 or fewer Coloradans hospitalized with COVID-19 since Oct. 7, 2020.

The improved numbers have prompted state and local authorities to increasingly discuss the next phase of handling COVID-19, which they say can be dealt in a similar manner as influenza or other infectious diseases. The state Department of Public Health and Environment has loosened its contact tracing and quarantine requirements for schools, every metro-area county with mask mandates has unwound them over the past month, and Denver said Wednesday that it would end its vaccine requirement for public and high-risk employees.

But the virus has not yet vanished; nor will it anytime soon. The modelers note that broad population immunity will fade by the summer, and officials have said another wave of some sort may come in the fall, as it has the past two years. The emergence of another variant could further scuttle hopes for a quiet spring and early summer. 

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.