Aspen hospital officials says their focus is on science, not economy

Aspen Valley Hospital.
Aspen Times File

The medical advisory team at Aspen Valley Hospital said they lack a minimum four-week window of science-based data before they can comment on whether restaurants should reopen to dine-in patrons May 20.

Saying they could only draw conclusions through a medical lens, members of Aspen Valley Hospital’s board of directors, as well as its medical advisory team, said they backed the county’s phased opening of businesses through restrictive means, otherwise known as the Pitkin County “Roadmap to Reopening.”

Speaking on behalf of the medical advisory team during AVH’s meeting Monday, Dr. Catherine Bernard said it supports the road map because “we see this as a science-based and logical approach to reopening the community safely.”

At that same virtual board meeting, however, the medical advisory team declined to opine on the Pitkin County Board of Health’s proposal to seek a variance from a state order so restaurants could open at 30% capacity May 20.

Pitkin County’s most recent public health order took effect Saturday and goes through May 27, when the state’s safer-at-home order concludes. It also dovetails with the second phase of the county’s reopening road map, which also begins May 27 so long as there is a “sustained decrease” in new COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days and the hospital is operating in non-crisis mode, among other criteria.

At Monday’s meeting, Bernard noted the medical data is incomplete because the medical community needs at least four weeks — representative of two generations of the virus — to draw any conclusions about lifting restrictions. She based that on the window starting May 1.

Bernard noted “we don’t feel comfortable that we can make good decisions and give good advice on a time frame that is shorter that. I have to say, we recognize that is not four weeks from May 1, but the big change we made on April 23 with construction and landscaping companies coming in, it is four weeks from that.”

Pitkin County restaurants and bars, most of which inhabit downtown Aspen, can do take-out service only now because of public health orders stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Public orders have crippled the industry, which saw its revenue plunge by 59.6% in March compared with March 2019, according to a sales tax report the city’s Finance Department issued Wednesday. Aspen’s 12 commercial sectors that pay sales taxes combined for a revenue drop of 43.6%, the report said.

Yet economic data, however grim, cannot influence the hospital’s position on making health care-based decisions, CEO David Ressler said.

“We are not in the position to gauge community socioeconomic and other factors that elected officials need to take into account,” Ressler said Monday. “Hospital officials can only talk to the science and our capacity.”

This month the hospital has been giving free testing to those who feel they have symptoms of COVID-19.

Through Tuesday, a combination of 163 patients and residents had been tested at the hospital, with 17 coming back positive and 120 negative. Another 26 results are pending, said Jennifer Slaughter, AVH’s chief marketing officer.

The most recent test-positive for the novel virus was May 10, Slaughter said Wednesday.

AVH crested with three positive results March 27, Chief Clinical Officer Lori Maloy said at Monday’s meeting.

The MAT team also is in the process of determining “triggers” to “know when the viral impact on the community appears to be increasing” and whether the road map should be revaluated, Ressler said Wednesday.

“We want to help inform the process of supporting the plan (to reopen) by providing hospital data and continued medical input into what that data means,” Ressler said.

The 25-bedroom hospital currently has no capacity issues in its ICU, while all of its ventilators were available as of Wednesday, according to Ressler and Slaughter. Personal protective equipment also is good supply and staffing levels are healthy, Ressler said.

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