Skip ahead to 21:30 to watch the video above.
With the return of cold weather, COVID cases are again climbing in Rio Blanco County and many areas of the state. Hospitalizations are also increasing, which is why 95% of the state’s ICU beds are full. “We’ve been having anywhere from 10-14 hospitalizations every 14 days for some time now,” said RBC Public Health Director Alice Harvey describing the local situation.
Though statewide hospitalization rates had begun to stabilize, Harvey pointed out that things are unlikely to slow down anytime soon due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Comparing infection rates to the same time last year, she said that the increase is “sustained” and includes more cases and a wider spread transmission in the community.
In addition to vaccinations, Harvey stressed the importance of testing as a means to control spread in the community. She noted though that rapid tests offered “are not an all clear” since they are not as accurate as the long term tests that get sent to the state lab. In other words, COVID’s incubation length of 14 days means you could get a “false negative” rapid test result and still go out spreading the virus unknowingly. For this reason Harvey said if you want to help control the spread after getting tested, it’s best to be cautious, and wait for results from the state lab.
Early testing can also help decrease your chances of severe illness, since it means you could get therapeutic drugs like monoclonal antibodies, which can reduce hospitalization if used early in the illness. Jenny Queen, Physician Assistant at Valley View Hospital’s Lung Center said so far, none of her patients who received monoclonal antibodies ended up in the hospital. She added, however, that the treatment is most effective within “3-5 days of symptom onset” which is another reason early testing is important.
Queen said in response to high COVID case rates and hospitalizations, Valley View has implemented procedures to postpone non-elective surgeries. She emphasized however that with Denver hospitals filling up, and St. Mary’s in Grand Junction being full, more than just “non-elective” surgeries are now getting postponed by Denver based hospitals.
“I have several patients who go down to Denver for lung-nodule re-sections concerned for lung cancer,” said Queen, adding, “We can’t get those surgeries done,” due to a low number of ICU beds.
PMC Provider Dr. Karen Frye said the potential for overwhelmed hospitals is a real and legitimate concern even locally, and said it’s something healthcare providers keep a close eye on. Dr. Frye also reiterated that getting tested early gives healthcare providers more options for early treatment, which is more effective at preventing severe illness.
The Delta variant is the dominant strain in RBC and the broader region, which is leading to more hospitalizations and severe disease. Despite a relatively small number of “breakthrough infections,” vaccines are still demonstrating a “definite statistical difference” between non-vaccinated and vaccinated people getting hospitalized. Dr. Suresh Khilnani, Pulmonologist at Valley View’s Lung Center said, “It’s 10 times more hospitalizations and deaths in people who are not vaccinated.”
With the immunity of some people who got vaccinated early on starting to wane, doctors, public health officials and medical professionals are recommending booster shots for everyone who is eligible.
By LUCAS TURNER | firstname.lastname@example.org