COVID cases worse now than at this point last year; just 7 ICU beds left in Northwest Colorado
There are just seven intensive-care unit beds available in Northwest Colorado with more cases of COVID-19 in Routt County now than this time last year.
Out of the 65 ICU beds in the five-county region that includes Routt County, 58 of those are currently in use, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Across the state, there are 80 available ICU beds — just 5% of the state’s total — and hospitals have taken steps to more efficiently move patients to other levels of care.
“We’re at a high level of transmission locally and across the state,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County’s chief medical officer. “Here we are in November. The modeling suggests we might not even peak until December. … I think we’re looking at significant rates of disease transmission here at least through February.”
Fueled primarily by unvaccinated school-aged populations and in areas of the county where vaccination is low, the recent surge of cases — 203 in the past two weeks, 99 in the past seven days — spurred local public health officials to release a public health advisory, mirroring actions taken by communities on the Front Range.
The advisory is not a new public health order, rather a “friendly reminder” about the ways people should still be protecting themselves and others from the virus. When asked about putting measures like masking back in place with an order, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said she preferred prioritizing vaccinations.
“I do think that is a pretty difficult step to take in light of vaccinations,” Smith said. “Vaccinations are really our No. 1 strategy.”
Like across the state, Harrington said doctors are seeing a consistent number of people that need to be hospitalized locally at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
“We seem to be pretty steady now with multiple people in the hospital at any given time,” Harrington said. “We are dealing with people now who are in their long recovery.”
Because COVID-19 generally affects multiple organs, each needs to be recovered for someone to be able to go home, meaning they can spend multiple weeks in the hospital. Harrington said because of limitations across the state, there is a struggle to send people to other hospitals, and other places are looking to send patients to Steamboat.
A shortage of rehabilitation beds is further taxing the system, Harrington said, because people need to stay in the hospital longer rather than going to a lower level of care. If there was a car accident locally, Harrington said they might have trouble getting anyone injured to a trauma center outside of Steamboat.
“We’re getting by OK locally,” Harrington said. “We’ve been getting phone calls from other hospitals in our neck of the woods asking if we have room. … It’s a challenge, and it’s gotten worse each month.”
Those filling the beds are largely — about 79% across the state — unvaccinated. Of the 70 local COVID-19 hospitalizations, Harrington said just three were vaccinated, and each was sent home after a few days, while unvaccinated counterparts fare much worse.
“The people who are dying, the people who we transfer out, the people who are ventilated are all unvaccinated people of all ages,” Harrington said.
Like with the spike in cases near the start of the school year, school-aged children are currently seeing an incidence rate nearly double that of the rest of residents, according to county public health data.
But pockets of the county with low vaccination are also driving this surge. The incidence rate in South Routt County — where just 46% of residents are vaccinated — is more than double that in the rest of the county.
“I can tell you, anecdotally living in South Routt County, it seems like there’s a problem,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said.
So far, 14 children between ages 5 and 11 in Routt County have gotten their first dose of the newly authorized Pfizer vaccine, and clinics scheduled for this weekend around the Yampa Valley have quickly filled up.
Brooke Maxwell, Routt County public health nurse, said the enthusiasm for the child vaccines is stronger than expected, but pharmacies will start to get the shots this week, and there will soon be much wider availability.
“We have an initial allotment of 600 doses here, most of which are accounted for with appointments,” Harrington said. “I think we can get to where here, in a month, everybody who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.”
So far, 19,584 Routt County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, equal to about 76% of the total population.
“Nobody has died in Routt County from the vaccine,” Harrington said, adding that 23 people have died of COVID-19. “Frankly, I don’t think we have seen really any serious (cases) of lasting side effects. I think it just points to the overall safety of the vaccine.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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