AURORA, Colo. — UCHealth is seeing a shift in its patient population with the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

According to the organization, based on a recent chart review, a majority of the patients that were hospitalized with COVID-19 last week were admitted for reasons other than the virus – like heart attacks, strokes, injuries and other illnesses.  

Of the more than 350 patients positive for COVID-19 in UCHealth hospitals, about one-third were admitted primarily due to COVID-19 complications. The remaining two-thirds were admitted to the hospitals for other medical reasons – what are called incidental cases – and were found to be positive upon routine hospital testing that occurs with all admissions. 

UCHealth said the new data is a stark contrast from the patient population breakdown when delta was the dominant variant. At that time, a review found that more than 90 percent of the COVID-19-positive patients in UCHealth hospitals were there for COVID-19 treatment and complications, with very few incidental cases. 

The new data reflects omicron’s high transmissibility; across Colorado, the positivity rate for COVID-19 is about 30%. 

Patients who are admitted with COVID-19, even if incidental, are still considered potentially infectious; staff still must wear specific types of personal protective equipment (PPE), like gowns, gloves, masks, etc. to help prevent further infections.  

However, the one thing that has not changed is the proportion of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units who are vaccinated vs. unvaccinated against COVID-19, according to the organization.

Last week, UCHealth was caring for 75 patients with COVID-19 in its ICUs, and more than 90 percent of those were unvaccinated. 

“Patients who are unvaccinated still make up the vast majority of those in the hospital or in the ICUs who need treatment for COVID-19,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, UCHealth’s senior medical director of infection prevention and control and a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Breakthrough infections are occurring, but a lot of those breakthrough infections are not as severe because the vaccine is protecting those individuals. The purpose of the vaccines is to keep you from getting severe illness and dying from COVID-19, and they are very effective at this.” 

UCHealth continues to urge Coloradans to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 if eligible, and to continue to wear masks, physically distance, avoid large crowds and wash hands frequently.  

“While Omicron is less severe than other variants, the risk is not zero,” Barron said. “Even if you have mild symptoms, if you are unvaccinated, you remain at high risk for developing complications related to the virus.” More on UCHealth’s findings can be found here.