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As Colorado Eases COVID-19 Restrictions, Local Hospitals Say They’re Not Overwhelmed

Apr 26, 2020

Aspen Valley Hospital's emergency room entrance in March 2020. The hospital says patient volumes have stayed low and manageable.
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Operations are more or less normal at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff are wearing extra protective equipment, but they are not overwhelmed. David Brooks, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said the fact that things are relatively calm is a direct result of people staying home. 

“The success here is to see nothing happen,” Brooks said. “That's the hard part to get the community to understand, but they're doing a great job. We just need to maintain that.”

Colorado’s stay-at-home order lifts Monday, loosening some restrictions. Soon, personal services like salons and pet groomers will be allowed to re-open with strict precautions. 

“I want to reiterate, the Safer-at-Home phase is not going back to life as normal. It’s not a major adjustment from where we have been,” said Governor Jared Polis in a press release last week. “Safer-at-Home means most Coloradans should continue to limit social interactions to the greatest extent possible to just individuals in your household and wear facial masks when you are out.” 

 

Hospitals in the Roaring Fork Valley say they are prepared, and social distancing is a big part of why they are not over capacity with COVID-19 patients. Brooks said that is also thanks to advance planning from hospitals and public health departments that will continue to serve everyone well into the future. But if all of that planning pays off, it will happen quietly.

If a bunch of people complain and say, 'You guys made a big deal about nothing,' that means we did everything right.

“The hardest part is when it's over, if a bunch of people complain and say, 'You guys made a big deal about nothing,' that means we did everything right,” Brooks said.  

Brooks and his team are trying to make sure conditions at the hospital stay manageable, especially because the novel coronavirus will likely be the main focus of their infectious disease treatment into 2021 and in years to come until there’s a vaccine. 

One thing is clear. There are going to be ebbs and flows of the disease. When those will come, though, can be hard to tell.

“I wish I had a crystal ball,” said Elaine Gerson, planning section chief at Aspen Valley Hospital. “Because if I did, I'd probably be the richest person on the planet.”

I wish I had a crystal ball, because if I did, I'd probably be the richest person on the planet.

Now that state and local governments are laying out plans for a gradual return to normal, there is a chance that as people leave their homes, the virus will spread. Gerson said their existing plans accomodate for that.

“Whether it's the initial surge that happens as a result of the initial infectious process, or whatever is happening in the community creates a need for additional acute care beds,” Gerson said. “That plan is in place.”

Regardless of what exactly happens next, the hospitals are drawing on some takeaways from their first stretch of coronavirus planning including the value of collaboration. Brooks said conversations with other hospitals have helped everyone get a better understanding of what is going on and what to expect.

“I've never had so many conversations with other hospital organizations in my life,” Brooks said. “I've got people on speed dial that six months ago were a competitor, and now they're a partner.”

 

I've never had so many conversations with other hospital organizations in my life. I've got people on speed dial that six months ago were a competitor.

Hospitals also hold a daily conference call to share news about patient volumes. If it looks like a surge is coming, Gerson said they talk about working together to help soften the blow.

“We collectively discuss if one particular hospital is seeing an uptick, how do we as a regional group of hospitals support each other,” Gerson said.

Gerson said that kind of collaboration is part of a successful management plan that could be useful later, especially in another public health crisis.

“All of the planning that went into this is something that we should bound and put on the shelves to pull out for any future use that we have,” Gerson said.

In the meantime, Gerson said she is thankful that people are staying home and wearing masks.

“That’s hugely important and important for each one of our hospitals – regionally and nationally – to be able to take care of patients that really need the care, to have resources available,” Gerson said.

Since the start of the pandemic, Aspen Valley has had 12 hospitalizations and Valley View has had 15. Both have enough beds to handle that level of patient volume.