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Summit County Public Health officials fear current trajectory of COVID-19

Leaders are planning to draft a letter to Gov. Jared Polis that advocates for a statewide mask mandate

Shoppers wear masks Aug. 10 at City Market in Breckenridge. Summit County leaders are planning to draft a letter to Gov. Jared Polis that advocates for a statewide mask mandate.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

The most recent Summit County Board of Health meeting Tuesday, Nov. 23, had somber news. As state public health officials sound the alarm about the increasingly limited number of hospital beds available statewide, leaders from Summit County are quietly evaluating what’s happening locally on a day-by-day basis.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland repeatedly used the word “dire” to describe the availability of the state’s ICU beds. As of Friday, Nov. 26, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s website reported that 93% of the state’s ICU beds were in use and that the southwest, San Luis Valley and southeast regions of the state all had no ICU beds available. In the central mountain region, which is where Summit County is located, about 9% of ICU beds are available. Wineland said this trend is causing hospitals to transfer people around the state.

“Vail Health is actually starting to get transfers from northwest Colorado and west Colorado because they just don’t have the capacity to care for patients,” Wineland said. “It’s very unusual for patients to be transferred up in altitude, as we know. That’s not ideal for many situations, but certainly Vail Health could, for example, care for (medical-surgical) patients where the altitude isn’t necessarily a factor in that person’s level of care.”



Locally, St. Anthony Summit Hospital is part of a larger Centura Health network, and it remains in good standing with how many ICU beds are available, though spokesperson Brent Boyer did note that the health system has seen an increase in patients unrelated to the virus.

“While we have seen an increase in patients recently at St. Anthony Summit Hospital, that increase is primarily the result of the sorts of medical issues and trauma typical for our community this time of year, particularly with our ski resorts now operating and visitor numbers increasing during the holiday week,” Boyer wrote in an email. “We continue to have the staffing and capacity to serve every patient in need of our care. As of Friday afternoon, only 14% of our hospitalized patients are being treated for COVID-19.”



What’s happening at St. Anthony Summit Hospital is important because that partly determines what measure the county could implement, if any, in the future. Even still, Wineland and other local leaders believe that since the larger Centura health system is seeing a higher demand for beds as of late, it’s only a matter of time before St. Anthony sees an increase in demand for beds, too. For example, if hospitals on the Front Range are no longer accepting patients from Summit County, that could be a problem for demand for beds locally.

During Wineland’s presentation, she predicted that there’s a 48% chance that hospital demand exceeds the state’s 2,000 beds in the next seven weeks if the state remains on its current trajectory.

Though Wineland is not currently recommending a mask mandate, Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue pointed out that this is a constantly evolving conversation. At this point, community leaders seem to be in agreement that a local mask mandate would be less effective than a statewide mandate, which Gov. Jared Polis has said he’s not exploring.

That’s not deterring the leaders of Summit County, though. Pogue said county leadership plans to draft a letter to the governor advocating for something to the effect of a statewide mask mandate.

“We are asking the governor to consider some state-level recommendations or changes because we are entering our busiest season in Summit County,” Pogue said. “On Christmas week, it is not unheard of for us to have literally hundreds of thousands of tourists in Summit County. It’s very difficult for us to communicate directly with those folks to help them understand how much of a capacity problem (there is) in our hospital due to COVID.”

In addition to drafting a letter to the governor, the county is beginning to explore a vaccinate mandate that mimics the one for large indoor events in metro Denver. For now, though, neither a mask mandate nor vaccine mandate are expected to happen in the near future, mostly because of St. Anthony Summit Hospital’s available capacity.

In the meantime, Pogue said she empathizes with individuals who feel burned out from the pandemic. According to Summit County’s website, the daily average seven-day incidence rate is 366 cases per 100,000 people for the past 28 days. And while nearly 85% of the community is fully vaccinated, only 17% have received a booster dose.

“I think it’s a real frustration,” Pogue said about pandemic fatigue. “I certainly feel it. I’ve gotten my two vaccines, I’ve gotten my booster, my kids are all one shot in, and it is frustrating that we are still having this conversation.”


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