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Public health orders will align with Aspen hospital’s patient capacity

Concerning, cautious and comfortable.

Those are the three C’s that Aspen Valley Hospital officials are using to help residents, businesses and decision-makers better understand the facility’s patient capacity during the coronavirus pandemic. The three C’s also are intended to inform public health orders.

As it stood Friday, the hospital was operating in the “comfortable” mode, the healthiest diagnosis it can have under a capacity matrix unveiled by CEO David Ressler during a virtual community meeting Thursday.

The “comfortable” status supports loosening public health orders, which happens Wednesday when restaurants and lodges are allowed to open on a restricted basis. Wednesday also marks the first day of phase two of Pitkin County’s “Roadmap to Reopening.”

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“The community has done its job and we have effectively and aggressively reduced the instances of the virus,” Ressler said, “and that’s why we are moving forward with the road map.”

Hospital coronavirus data is encouraging, Ressler said, noting Pitkin County had a seven-day average of zero new daily cases and an 8% infection rate among 293 people who had been tested at AVH (14 results are pending). The hospital’s staff also is generally healthy, said Ressler, adding “now at a given time we have two or three employees out with any type of illness.” In late March, the hospital was in its worse shape during the pandemic when 6.5% were out ill with COVID-19 or symptoms.

“We have a full workforce ready to go to work for our community,” Resler said.

For the hospital to maintain its “comfortable” status, it must continue to meet the following criteria based on daily averages:

• Bed capacity is greater than 50% among the 16 beds in AVH’s progressive care unit and the four in intensive care;

• Fewer than six COVID-19-positive patients are in its emergency department;

• Fewer than 10 patients at the respiratory tent are reporting COVID-19 symptoms;

• Fewer than 16 individuals are taking the free community COVID-19 tests;

• Fewer than six essential health care workers —doctors, nurses, etc. — are out simultaneously with COVID-19 symptoms or sick with the coronavirus.

The formula — called the AVH capacity matrix — will shape public health orders as retailers, lodges and restaurants prepare for the summer tourism season. As well, the hospital’s capacity matrix will be part of a community-based COVID-19 information dashboard that is tentatively set to debut online Tuesday.

While hospital authorities have said they won’t give directives to the Board of Health regarding its public orders, the capacity matrix notes that a “comfortable” rating falls in line with reducing restrictions.

Ressler, however, cautioned that the pandemic will carry on for months if not years to come, and hospital operations could change with it.

“If our capacity starts to diminish, we’re going to become cautious,” he said. “We’re going to say we need to be careful — that we’re not allowing this virus to spread too much and start to take up too much of our capacity here at the hospital.”

Under the hospital’s capacity matrix, a “concerning” status — a bed capacity of less than 25%, for instance —would signal a need to beef up public health orders. Under a “cautious” mode —when 25% to 50% of the beds aren’t available, among other criteria — the current public health orders could be maintained as is.

For now, the hospital’s “comfortable” level dovetails with the next week’s easing of public health orders.

Pitkin County’s new webpage, in the meantime, will serve as a hub of local information related to COVID-19 cases.

Some of the dashboard information will be data driven, such as COVID-19 cases and trends; other details will include public health orders and updates, flight information out of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, business resources and other items, said Tracy Trulove, the city of Aspen’s communications director who also has been handling local public-information duties during the pandemic.

The webpage is meant to give residents and businesses a place to one-stop shop for current and pertinent COVID-19-related information, Trulove said, noting that its launch coincides with next week’s new phase of public health orders.

Through Friday, a total of 57 positive cases of the novel virus had been reported in Pitkin County since the outbreak, as well as two deaths.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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