Aspen man, 94, is Pitkin County resident who died of COVID-19, officials confirm
This is the first death of a Pitkin County resident due to COVID-19
The first death of a Pitkin County resident attributed to the COVID-19 outbreak was confirmed Thursday.
The 94-year-old Aspen man with underlying medical issues died at his home in town Tuesday, according to a press release from Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers.
“He had been suffering from COVID-like symptoms, but had not been diagnosed prior to his death,” the release states. “Confirmation of the infection was received early Thursday by the Pitkin County coroner.”
Meanwhile, Pitkin County officials sounded the alarm both Wednesday and Thursday asking people in the community with connections to companies that can procure or produce medical equipment to please give them a call as soon as possible.
“More people are getting sick every day,” Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said. “Please consider helping Pitkin County first. Pitkin County will take care of you.”
McNicholas Kury announced the 94-year-old man’s death at the beginning of an afternoon virtual community meeting about the COVID-19 virus.
“We’ve learned today that Pitkin County suffered the first death in the community due to the COVID virus,” she said. “Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends.”
The man, who was not identified, had been ill for three days. His cause of death was complications from COVID-19 and the manner of death was natural, the release from the coroner’s office states.
Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann also recognized “the significance of this loss.”
“Our hearts are heavy having learned of this first death in our community’s struggle against the spread of COVID-19,” she said in the release. “We especially want the family of the victim to know how sorry we are.”
Nineteen deaths in Colorado have so far been attributed to COVID-19, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment database. The Aspen man’s death was included in that total, said Bill Linn, spokesman for the Roaring Fork Valley team managing the local virus response.
According to the CDPHE, through Wednesday there were 1,430 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state in 39 counties from 10,122 people who have been tested. In Pitkin County 23 people had tested positive for COVID-19, as of Thursday afternoon’s update from the CDPHE.
Aspen Valley Hospital had two patients Thursday with confirmed cases of COVID-19, one of whom was critical, CEO Dave Ressler said. The hospital has handled a total of 10 admissions of patients with COVID-like symptoms, two of whom have tested positive, four negative and four are still pending, he said during the virtual community meeting Thursday.
And while Ressler said the volume of COVID-19 cases has been light so far, one disturbing trend has come to light recently.
“We are starting to see sicker patients,” he said, noting that officials are sending those who need ventilators to hospitals at lower altitudes for the time being. “We are in the calm before the storm.”
The 25-bed hospital has five ventilators and needs to keep the numbers of critical patients with the virus below it’s maximum capacity for as long as possible. The good news, Ressler said, is that the social distancing and stay-at-home mitigation efforts to slow the spread are bearing fruit.
“My message is that it’s working,” he said. “If we can maintain our efforts and keep the (patient) levels low … we’re going to save lives.”
He said he also spoke recently to a colleague at Vail Health Hospital in Eagle County, where just a week ago officials were reporting “surge demand” among COVID-19 patients. That is back down to “manageable levels” this week, which the person attributed to Eagle County’s mitigation efforts, Ressler said.
Dr. Catherine Bernard, president of AVH’s medical staff, seconded Ressler’s sentiments Thursday and noted that the staff voted unanimously earlier this week in support of Pitkin County’s public health orders. Those orders, the latest of which require residents to stay home with a few exceptions, have so far prevented a local surge of COVID-19 cases, she said.
“But this is no time to become complacent,” Bernard warned. The AVH emergency room physician also said she’s seeing sicker COVID-19 patients.
The feeling that the virus is going to get worse was implicit in the calls for help procuring medical equipment Wednesday and Thursday from McNicholas Kury and Commissioner Patti Clapper.
Fed up with a lack of help from state and federal authorities, the two commissioners on Wednesday asked local residents with connections to medical supply companies to call them directly if they can offer help.
“Don’t hesitate to contact the (board of county commissioners),” Clapper said. “We can help channel any opportunities people might give us to the proper places.”
The comment came after Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said Wednesday the county had asked for support staff from the state and been denied or ignored. The county will have to contract with local epidemiological and other staff to get those jobs done in the near future, which will be paid for out of an extra $350,000 approved Wednesday by commissioners.
“I’m very dismayed some of (these requested positions) haven’t been filled,” McNicholas Kury said.
She noted that working individual sources to get a leg up on medical and other supplies — which will also come out of the same $350,000 pot — constituted “an extraordinary channel of how to get supplies.”
Peacock said anyone with supply connections or connections to companies offering COVID-19 tests can email the team managing the Roaring Fork Valley’s COVID-19 response at firstname.lastname@example.org. He noted that employees from local dentist offices that have been closed because of the virus donated personal protective equipment Wednesday to the incident command, while Ressler thanked retired physicians who have volunteered to help.
“Our community has stepped up,” Peacock said.
In addition, anyone who wants to make a donation to the local coronavirus efforts or volunteer to help with them can go to the Aspen Community Foundation’s website, he said.
Pitkin County is asking residents to participate in two community surveys accessible on its website at pitkincounty.com/COVID-19. One survey is a symptom tracker to provide better information on the infection locally, while the other is meant to gauge residents’ emotional health.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.