Pitkin County’s plan to gradually return to normal life relies in part on adequate testing for COVID-19, which will be carried out by Aspen Valley Hospital. The hospital is cooperating with the county and using nasal swab tests to identify new cases of the virus.
Alex Hager: I’ve heard the county say a few times that they plan to test everyone who has symptoms. Will you be able to test everyone who has symptoms? Is that everyone...with an asterisk?
Dave Ressler, Aspen Valley Hospital CEO: No. I guess the asterisk is, as of now we can. We've allowed for some increased testing as the public health department backs off on the public health orders that have so contained a movement in the community and activity. As activity and movement resumes appropriately, and as needs to occur to start restoring the economy and start supporting businesses and families again, there is going to be an increase of viral activity. So we know that our testing numbers will go up. And so we are prepared for that.
We actually have excess capacity now because we have so few patients coming in for testing. It could get to the point where we get overwhelmed, but we'll have bigger problems. We would have bigger problems in that case because the demands on our healthcare services in general will start to increase.
AH: How many tests do you have?
DR: At this point it's a function of the swabs, or sometimes you'll hear test kits, and we maintain an inventory of several hundred. And the supply chain has opened up. So we have not been having difficulty. We've had plenty to be able to meet our current needs. That wasn't necessarily the case as little as a couple of weeks ago. But for now we've got sufficient swabs to be able to perform the tests.
AH: Obviously it would be hard to predict a surge or spike in cases, but there are probably going to be ebbs and flows coming at some point. How does your testing capacity accommodate for that?
DR: We maintain what we call par levels of inventory. For each item of supply, we want to have a certain number, that when we drop below that number, we reorder. If one of two things happens, we won't be able to maintain those par levels.
One is there's all of a sudden a constriction in the supply chain. That is something that would cause us to want to be concerned. A second is all of a sudden we're just simply utilizing the swabs faster than we can get them replaced by our supplier. Or a combination of both a constricted supply chain and using them too quickly. If either of those become the case, which we don't think will happen, we certainly are going to prioritize patient care needs. Making sure that we can test patients that are presenting to the hospital is our first priority.
AH: How about patient volumes, are they still somewhat low and steady?
DR: Great question. The patient volumes at the hospital continue to be low, which was what gave us and the county the indication that it was a good time to proceed with the testing and tracing. So we actually, as of [May 5], do not have a patient in the hospital with COVID symptoms. We have other patients, but we don't have one in the hospital or in the emergency department at present.
We did have three patients in the emergency department [May 4]. So that gives you some idea how low the incidence of the virus in the community is. It's been a while since we transported our last patient. It was a total of four that we had transferred out. And I would say we reached our peak somewhere in that March 15-22 timeframe and just been tailing off ever since.
AH: That is heartening to hear!
DR: It should be. It is for all of us. The community succeeded in smashing down the curve and now we can start working on getting it open again.