Officials continue to monitor COVID-19 trends as state’s hospital capacity hits ‘all-time low’
Summit County officials discussed possible steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the community as case numbers continue to grow across the state. They’re hopeful that a tightening of restrictions in the local public health order won’t be necessary.
Public Health Director Amy Wineland presented the latest local and state data during a joint meeting with the Summit Board of County Commissioners Tuesday, Nov. 16. She said that cases, test percent positivity, hospitalizations and deaths have all been on the rise across Colorado since August, but added that trends have started to improve over the last few days.
From the most recent statewide peak on Nov. 9, when the seven-day average was 54.52 cases per 100,000 residents, the seven-day average has since dropped to 47.49 as of Sunday, Nov. 14, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In Summit County, the seven-day average has dropped from 422.4 per 100,000 on Friday, Nov. 12 to 377.3 on Sunday.
Wineland said it’s unclear if the downward trend represents a turning point for the state or if it’s simply a blip.
“It’s really hard to know if this is going to be a sustained downward trend,” Wineland said. “We know, and as we’ve seen … in the past 30 days, we sometimes will look like we’re going down and actually turn up with our cases. This is concerning because we know we’re on the edge of a whole influx of visitors to our community with the holidays coming and the ski resorts opening.”
Wineland called the statewide hospital capacity “alarming,” noting that it’s currently at an all-time low — including non-COVID-19 related patients — even when compared to peak caseloads last winter. The issue isn’t currently as concerning locally, with only about 35% of beds at St. Anthony Summit Hospital currently occupied, according to data on the county’s website. But only about 6% of the state’s entire intensive care unit beds are currently unoccupied — fewer than 100 in total.
The central mountain region of Colorado, which includes Summit County, is currently in the best shape of any region in the state, but it still has just 22% of ICU beds available.
“We are certainly linked to the statewide system of hospital capacity, so it’s not unrealistic to think we might eventually be impacted by that,” Wineland said. “… Right now our hospital is looking fine, but we are worried about the region being at lower capacity right now.”
She pointed to recent action taken by the state and other counties to address the concern, including Gov. Jared Polis ordering FEMA teams to help staff up to 500 additional beds within hospitals around the state and activating crisis standards of care, which allow hospitals to relax some staffing restrictions. The state’s latest public health order also requires vaccination at indoor, unseated events with more than 500 people in attendance across several Front Range counties.
Wineland said for county officials, it’s worth having conversations about similar restrictions locally if case numbers continue to trend in the wrong direction. Officials said they’d be interested in reaching out to some of the county’s larger venues to discuss the topic, including the Keystone Conference Center and Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center, among others.
“Other communities right now are looking at other mitigation strategies that they might implement if their hospital capacity is surged,” Wineland said. “Pitkin, for example, is looking at possibly implementing restrictions on capacity limits to 50% or requiring vaccination for businesses. … Other counties have done mask orders, etc. We are not at that point yet. Our hospital is not being surged, but if the state’s cases continue as they are right now it’s possible we will get to that place.”
For now, Wineland said implementing any new restrictions would be too heavy handed, but she said the community should continue to look at hospital capacity as the “north star” in determining when and if more drastic steps need to be taken. She said exceeding 80% of hospital capacity locally would likely be the trigger point for recommending tighter restrictions.
But officials say there’s a strong possibility that such a scenario never comes to pass. Nearly 85% of eligible Summit County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and more than 95% have received at least one dose. Officials are hoping strong vaccination rates and more individuals in the community getting a booster shot will make a difference, along with the expansion of monoclonal antibody treatment in the area, which Wineland said is effective in helping to keep positive individuals out of the hospital.
“Even though the case rate might be increasing and might make people a little bit alarmed, it’s important for everyone now to understand that we have the tools that we know will work to stop the spread: wearing masks (and) getting vaccinated,” Wineland said.
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