FRISCO – The absence of tourists has meant lower-than usual patient numbers in hospitals in Colorado’s mountain communities, which is good news for staffing and supply levels in an area seeing a disproportionately high number of coronavirus cases.
The reduction in patients has been attributed to the closure of ski areas, which are typically packed with spring break visitors this time of year. The ski resorts were closed earlier this month in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus that has infected more than 1,400 people in Colorado and killed 24 as of Friday.
Infections are particularly high relative to the total population in counties with ski resorts. The most extreme example is Eagle County, where there were 147 cases as of Friday, the highest number in Colorado outside Denver.
Chris Lindley of the 56-bed Vail Health Hospital told the Vail Daily that’s largely because of the widespread testing that’s being done compared to other places in the state. The hospital itself isn’t being stressed as it normally would with the spring break crowds.
“Our hospital is the slowest it has been in decades,” Lindley said. “We are in great shape.”
But Will Cook, president and CEO of Vail Health, warned in a letter last week that could change quickly and the hospital’s limited resources could be used up quickly if people don’t act to stop the spread by social distancing.
“We will not have enough respirators to keep people alive, and locals of all ages will be dying,” Cook said.
In Frisco, officials at the 35-bed St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco tell The Summit Daily News that emergency room visits are down 50% and the hospital is adequately supplied with masks, respirators and gowns.
Officials have more than doubled the normally 10 available isolation rooms in preparation for a coronavirus-related surge. Emergency department medical director Dr. Marc Doucette said staff members are being cross-trained to prepare for a potential staffing shortage.
“Overall, we are pretty comfortable,” Doucette said about how the staff is dealing with fears about the virus. “We’re well-trained. We’re well-equipped. Everybody has been fabulous at stepping up and pitching in, but I have to think – just like with anybody in the community or especially in the health care workforce – there’s certainly some level of anxiety on a greater level with the epidemic and with the real concern that becoming ill is ... a possibility.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
In Vail, Lindley said hospital staff there also have been cross-trained and multiple rooms have been converted to handle coronavirus cases.
Three respiratory clinics also have been set up in the valley – one in Vail, another in Avon and the third in Eagle. Patients with symptoms go there for tests and treatment and if their conditions worsen, they are taken to a higher-level care facility, Lindley said.
“As a community here, we are handling it great,” Lindley said. “There is no stress today on our health care system. And we are doing everything we can to keep it just like that.”