As the state’s ICU beds reach capacity, Summit County and the surrounding region see lower COVID-19 hospitalizations |

As the state’s ICU beds reach capacity, Summit County and the surrounding region see lower COVID-19 hospitalizations

Summit County’s high vaccination rate and decreasing incidence rate contribute to a strong hold against the virus

Dr. Wyatt Hall works inside the emergency room at St. Anthony Summit Hospital in Frisco on May 5, 2020. No Summit County residents are currently hospitalized for COVID-19.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

Across the state, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise, but Summit County seems to be faring well, as its intensive care unit beds remain available and its incidence rate falls.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s website, 88% of the state’s ICU beds are currently in use as of Tuesday, Sept. 21. There are 1,696 beds in the state, and of those, 1,500 are currently in use. About 84% of the state’s acute care beds are in use, too.

While concerning, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said during a Summit County Board of Health meeting Tuesday that the region’s ICU bed capacity is holding steady.

“Right now, almost every county across the state is at a very high incidence rate,” Wineland said. “The good news for our region, … in terms of hospitalization capacity for ICU beds, is that we have almost 50% available in the mountain region, but that is not the case for most areas around the state. They’re in very high demand right now for their ICU bed availability.”

The state health department’s website groups Summit County in the central mountain region along with Eagle, Pitkin, Lake, Chaffee and Park counties. This region has 48% of its ICU beds available, the second highest in the state, behind only the southwest region.

The next region to have the highest number of ICU beds available is the northwest region, which has about 16% of its beds open. The San Luis Valley has no ICU beds available, and the northeast region only has 3% available.

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence noted that the state didn’t plan to intervene with virus restrictions unless hospital demand was up, and Wineland responded that the state is starting to have conversations “at the local level” to see what can be done in communities that are reaching surge capacity.

As far as the county goes, Wineland said St. Anthony Summit Hospital is doing “just fine” in providing COVID-19 patients with high-level care if needed.

Lawrence brought up that other counties in the state have mask mandates in place and confirmed with Wineland that there is currently nothing of that sort being discussed in Summit County. Wineland reiterated that St. Anthony Summit Hospital’s surge capacity is “the North Star” but said other events, such as a more deadly variant, could pose a big enough threat to warrant tighter restrictions in the future.

Of those who are hospitalized in the state, 82% are unvaccinated. The department’s website reports that those ages 50-80 make up the highest number of hospitalizations, accounting for nearly 56%.

Locally, Summit has no COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to the county’s website. The highest number of positive and probable cases is among those in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

Still, Summit County’s incidence rate is on a downward trend. It’s daily average incidence rate for the past 28 days is 191 cases per 100,000 people. This is down from mid-August, when the county’s rate was 272 cases per 100,000 people. This trend is also unlike last year, when Labor Day weekend caused a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Assisting the county’s hold against the virus is its high vaccination rate. The county’s website reports that 82% of the community is fully vaccinated, and 91% have received at least one dose. Even so, Wineland said she and her team are focused on encouraging those who haven’t gotten the shot to do so.

Besides focusing on the general population, the county began administering additional shots to immunocompromised people. Looking ahead, the Food and Drug Administration recently approved individuals 65 and older to get a booster shot, and Wineland said it’s expected that children ages 5-11 will be able to get vaccinated by the end of October.

There is no recommendation for the general public to get a booster shot.

While the county’s incidence rate is falling, Lawrence noted that she has gotten feedback from some business owners that they’d like to see a mask mandate in place to take the pressure off implementing the measure themselves.

“I just continue to tell people that as a business, you have a choice to require that, and certainly those business owners (say), ‘Yes, but it puts us in an awkward situation.’ And I’m like, ‘You know, I get that,’ but there’s some stores that require it, and some stores that don’t,” Lawrence said.

Some businesses, such as Vail Resorts, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Lake Dillon Theatre Co., require their staff to be vaccinated, and other entities, such as health care settings and government offices, are also mandated to get the shot or be regularly tested.

Moving forward, the county plans to extend the current public health order for another month. It was previously set to expire Sept. 30.

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