Hospitalizations more frequent in Routt County, set records statewide
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Until about a month ago, COVID-19 patients were not showing up consistently at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. It’s different now.
“We had people here last week. We’ve had people here this week. We have people here currently,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer and doctor at the hospital.
The increase in patients seeking hospital care for COVID-19 is a lagging indicator of the spike in cases Routt County has seen. Hospitalizations have severely increased statewide with over 1,300 people currently in hospital beds due to COVID-19 and about 43% of ventilators currently in use, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Hospitalizations reached 1,325 statewide Friday, just a day after the state reported 6,036 new cases, both records.
Harrington said health care workers in Steamboat are seeing three types of COVID-19 patients right now. The first are people who suspect or know they have the virus and are seeking treatment. The second type are people who may have had COVID-19 recently but are now having some type of complications with an organ system.
“COVID has an effect on other things that may happen down the road by a few weeks,” Harrington said.
The third type of patient they are seeing are people seeking treatment for something else and, through screening the hospital does, tests positive for COVID-19. Someone coming to the hospital because they are pregnant, having an elective surgery or seeking mental health treatment could learn they are positive for the virus.
“We seem to have gone over a tipping point. There is enough disease prevalence in the community now that these kind of scenarios can occur,” Harrington said. “Now to be fair, all these people are doing OK, they are going home. But the odds are that sooner or later, one of them doesn’t.”
Harrington said he has fielded calls from other hospitals nearing capacity looking to see if he could accommodate transfer patients.
“There are hospitals in Colorado now who are not taking more patients and are trying to figure out how to transfer patients out,” Harrington said.
Across the state, 83% of all intensive care unit beds are in use with the Front Range being stressed the most. The foothills and Mile High regions of the state have just 8% and 14% of their ICU beds currently available, respectively. In the northwest region of the state, which includes Routt County, just 25% of ICU beds are available, according to the state’s dashboard.
Routt County Board of Commissioners moved the county into Level Orange of the state’s dial framework earlier this week, joining roughly half the counties in the state that are just a step away from Stay at Home.
While the restrictions may reflect Level Orange, many counties, Routt included, are having cases at levels within metrics for the most serious restrictions. Just 16 of Colorado’s 64 counties currently have two-week incidence rates below 350 per 100,000 tests taken, the lower threshold for the stay-at-home level, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Gov. Jared Polis has resisted putting any statewide stay-at-home orders in place, leaving county officials wondering if making a move to Stay at Home alone would have any effect on the surge of cases.
In a move Friday, Routt County directly tied its local public health order to where the county is on the state’s dial, rather than acting independently from state officials.
“I have some questions about what is achieved if our small county does it by itself,” Harrington said about moving to Stay at Home. “Given that the disease is so widespread now in our state and in our country, and because it is no longer just an outbreak pattern, we are not at a time when local mass efforts necessarily work as well now.”
Harrington said a move to Stay at Home by commissioners would be more difficult now than it was in March. He also pointed out that workers don’t have the same type of protections from the federal government since additional unemployment benefits lapsed in July.
He also feels measures taken in the recent weeks should be given some time to see if they are having an effect.
“We wouldn’t have made them if we didn’t think they were worth doing,” Harrington said about the county’s move into Level Orange. “But I am pessimistic that we can completely bend the curve locally if our surrounding counties and state aren’t doing extra things to bend the curve as well.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Editor’s note: This story discusses the sensitive topics of domestic violence and abuse.