Resort counties explosive COVID-19 growth hits hard among Aspen hospital staff
25 workers at Aspen Valley Hospital out with positive COVID test or symptoms, CEO says
After the number of Aspen Valley Hospital staff with either COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test for the virus nearly doubled overnight, the facility’s change in status was inevitable Wednesday, CEO Dave Ressler said.
As of Thursday, the hospital will jump two levels from green or “comfortable” to red or “concerning” when it comes to essential staff out with COVID-19, and will move one level from comfortable to yellow or “cautious” because of the average daily visits by COVID patients, he said.
The hospital had 15 staff members out with COVID-19 or symptoms on Tuesday. On Wednesday it was 25, Ressler said.
“We’re going to red because we’re close to curtailing services,” Ressler said. “But even more so (the reason) is the rate of climb, because it’s been so fast.”
Indeed it has.
Pitkin County logged 194 new cases of COVID-19 between Sunday and Wednesday, including 126 among residents, 32 out of county cases and 36 still pending, said Josh Vance, county epidemiologist. The county’s incidence rate officially was 788 per 100,000 people, though including the pending cases pushed that far higher.
“With the rapid transmissibility (of omicron), the (case) counts have just exploded over a very short period of time,” Vance said. “Our incidence rate is well over 800 if not closer to 900. We’ve more than quadrupled our case counts in a matter of five days.
“It’s alarming quite frankly.”
The county received word Wednesday morning of two more omicron positives, one from an out of county person likely exposed elsewhere and another from a resident who recently traveled to Texas, he said. It can take weeks to receive confirmation of omicron from the state public health lab, though Vance called the present circumstances “a suspected omicron surge.”
The surge is not happening statewide, he said. Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and San Juan counties are reporting incidence rates around 900 for the past seven days, Front Range counties are not, Vance said.
“It does seem to be fairly well isolated to resort counties at this point,” he said Wednesday evening.
That development is a bit of an echo to the beginning of the pandemic, when the first cases of COVID-19 in Colorado also popped up in resort counties including Pitkin.
Local public health officials monitor the hospital based on the number of essential health care workers out with COVID-19, the average daily visits by suspected COVID patients and the number of hospitalized COVID patients coupled with the hospital’s ability to transfer those who need a higher level of care to larger hospitals.
That last one has been at yellow for the past several weeks because the statewide hospital system has been inundated with COVID-19 patients, the vast majority unvaccinated, thanks to the delta variant. The other two metrics are now moving to more concerning levels because of the explosion of the much more infectious omicron variant in Pitkin County, which appears to have begun Saturday.
More and more people with COVID symptoms are showing up at the emergency department, Ressler said.
If the situation at the hospital deteriorates further, the next step would be to cancel all elective surgeries and concentrate available personnel on emergency needs, he said. That’s a big step for the hospital to take because it cuts off revenue, he has said.
“I’m concerned things are headed in that direction by our trajectory,” he said.
Vance urged people in Aspen and Pitkin County to be vigilant over Christmas.
“I hate to be Scrooge, but at this point with how much transmission there is in our community, we want people to seek testing before gathering,” he said. “And we encourage a limited number of people at gatherings to reduce the likelihood of transmission in our community.”
Go to covid19.pitkincounty.com for more information on testing, vaccines and information.
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With case counts dropping and the tension on the local hospital easing, Pitkin County’s COVID-19 omicron wave appears to be ebbing.