Local healthcare providers ready for COVID-19 as fall approaches

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis gets his first COVID-19 vaccine shot from medical assistant, Staci Ramirez at the Salud Family Health Center in Commerce City January 30, 2021.
Andy Cross/The Denver Post

Pitkin County Public Health Epidemiologist Carly Senst confirmed there was one COVID-19 death in the county so far this year. The person died this summer. The gender and age of the deceased could not be divulged due to privacy concerns for the patient.

Jennifer Slaughter, Aspen Valley Hospital chief growth and marketing officer, said the hospital could confirm that a single COVID-related death had occurred there after June.

In late July, Aspen Valley Hospital CEO Dave Ressler warned the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors that local COVID cases had increased and some of his hospital employees had become sick from exposure to the coronavirus.

As of Friday, Colorado reported 113 new COVID-19 cases admitted to hospitals statewide. That’s an increase of 31 cases from last week. But only 77 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado hospitals.

So far this summer, Colorado has been spared the COVID-19 outbreaks that hit Deep South states, including Texas and Louisiana. Colorado didn’t have the hefty spike in hospitalizations that afflicted Oregon (28.1% increase) or Montana (26.6%), according to the Centers for Disease Control.

When asked if hospital staff were required to wear masks, Slaughter replied that rather than a blanket daily requirement, personnel masking up depends on the situation.

“The hospital’s requirements around mask usage are triggered by a number of factors, including staff illness due to COVID (or) flu, patient admissions for COVID or flu, and viral transmission in the community,” Slaughter explained, adding that at COVID’s height, all staff and visitors were required to wear masks consistent with CDC guidance, which relaxed on May 8, 2023.

That’s when the CDC advised hospitals to use local COVID numbers to guide masking requirements, Slaughter said. She also said that Aspen Ambulance EMTs and paramedics were, as of July 24, required to wear masks in patient care situations.

The new COVID vaccine and booster targeting the XBB variant is supposed to be available by the end of September, according to the FDA. Meanwhile, the hospital and Pitkin County Public Health are closely monitoring local instances of COVID. And Senst emphasizes how crucial it is for the most vulnerable to get their shots.

“Older folks, 65-plus, as well as individuals with complex medical histories or certain pre-existing conditions are far more likely to suffer negative health outcomes due to Covid-19 infection,” Senst told the Aspen Times. The Centers for Disease Control found that one fifth of individuals who contract Covid-19 suffer long COVID symptoms … long COVID has the potential to impact individuals of any age or medical histories.”

Senst added that wearing medical-grade masks in crowded indoor spaces is still “an incredibly effective tool to protect yourself from getting sick with COVID-19.”

And masking helps protect others.

Last week, University of Colorado Health published an article saying that it’s safe for patients to get the new COVID vaccine or booster and their flu shots at the same time.

As flu season approaches, Slaughter says that Aspen Valley Hospital is well-equipped with Personal Protective Equipment and has a surge plan in place for any type of outbreak.

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