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To Vaccinate Veterans, Health Care Workers Must Cross Mountains, Plains and Tundra

Feb 22, 2021
Courtesy of Montana VA Health Care System

A Learjet 31 took off before daybreak from Helena Regional Airport in Montana, carrying six Veterans Affairs medical providers and 250 doses of historic cargo cradled in a plug-in cooler designed to minimize breakage.

Even in a state where 80-mph speed limits are normal, ground transportation across long distances is risky for the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine, which must be used within 12 hours of thawing.

@potus via Twitter

The Biden administration reopened enrollment for the Affordable Care Act this week. But enrollment details aren't the same everywhere.

Most states are part of the federal health insurance exchange through the ACA. That means most uninsured people can now sign up on HealthCare.gov through May 15.

But some Mountain West states have their own exchanges, and their own ways to sign up.

Montana’s Health Policy MVP Takes Her Playbook on the Road

Feb 18, 2021
Tommy Martino for Tradeoffs

Marilyn Bartlett might be the closest thing health policy has to a folk hero. A certified public accountant who barely tops 5 feet, Bartlett bears zero resemblance to Paul Bunyan. But she did take an ax to Montana’s hospital prices in 2016, stopping the state’s employee health plan from bleeding money.

“Marilyn is not a physically imposing person,” said Montana Board of Investments Executive Director Dan Villa, who worked closely with Bartlett in state government. “She is a blend of your favorite aunt, an accounting savant and a little bit of July Fourth fireworks.”

In the Mountain West and across the country, states are rolling back COVID-19 restrictions like mask mandates and allowing more people to gather. While this was largely a response to reduced infection numbers, new strains of the virus are on the move.


Health Experts Urge Double-Masking As Coronavirus Mutates

Feb 16, 2021

As highly contagious coronavirus variants spread, health experts in the Mountain West and beyond are urging people to upgrade and double up their masks.

As Demand for Mental Health Care Spikes, Budget Ax Set to Strike

Feb 9, 2021
Scott Franz / Capitol Coverage

When the pandemic hit, health officials in Montana’s Beaverhead County had barely begun to fill a hole left by the 2017 closure of the local public assistance office, mental health clinic, chemical dependency center and job placement office after the state’s last budget shortfall.

COVID-19-Certified Businesses Try to Woo Leery Patrons

Feb 8, 2021
Christie Aschwanden / KHN

On a sunny Saturday this month, Ruth Hatfield was sitting with a friend’s dog on a sidewalk bench in downtown Grand Junction. Back home in Snowmass Village, 120 miles away through winding Rocky Mountain roadways, local officials had just shut down indoor restaurant dining as COVID-19 cases reached some of the highest levels in Colorado.

Almost half a million Coloradans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. While that number indicates a promising start on the road to the state’s pandemic recovery, advocates say vaccine distribution has been marred by inequity. 


Steven Cornfield / Unsplash

Bingo is back in the dining room. In-person visits have returned, too, though with masks and plexiglass. The Haven Assisted Living Facility’s residents are even planning a field trip for a private movie screening once they’ve all gotten their second round of COVID-19 vaccines.

Such changes are small but meaningful to residents in the Hayden, Colorado, long-term care home, and they’re due mostly to the arrival of the vaccine.

Dennis Brendel / Unsplash


One way to take care of yourself during the coronavirus pandemic is to stay connected to your loved ones, but what happens when you have a disagreement or a falling out with the people you’re supposed to feel most connected to, and how does that affect your mental health?

Michael Longmire / Unsplash

Florida, Colorado and several New England states are moving ahead with efforts to import prescription drugs from Canada, a politically popular strategy greenlighted last year by President Donald Trump.

But it’s unclear whether the Biden administration will proceed with Trump’s plan for states and the federal government to help Americans obtain lower-priced medications from Canada.

Colorado plans to start offering the coronavirus vaccine to residents ages 65 to 69 and all pre-school and K-12 teachers on Feb. 8, Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday.

Polis said it will take about three weeks to administer the vaccine to all educators who want it.

It will also be offered to child-care workers, school bus drivers and other school staff who work directly with children.

Polis said the decision was made to prioritize teachers because they are “foundational to our society to function, for workplace equity, for the sanity of families with kids.”

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

The rate of new COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County has dropped sharply over the course of the past two weeks. That number is steadily declining from a peak on Jan. 15, when the county’s two-week incidence rate was the highest in the state by a significant margin. 


Amid COVID Health Worker Shortage, Foreign-Trained Professionals Sit on Sidelines

Jan 26, 2021
Brandon Thibodeaux / KHN

As hospitals nationwide struggle with the latest COVID-19 surge, it’s not so much beds or ventilators in short supply. It’s the people to care for the sick.

Yet a large, highly skilled workforce of foreign-educated doctors, nurses and other health practitioners is going largely untapped due to licensing and credentialing barriers. According to the Migration Policy Institute think tank in Washington, D.C., some 165,000 foreign-trained immigrants in the U.S. hold degrees in health-related fields but are unemployed or underemployed in the midst of the health crisis.

Faced with complaints the initial vaccine distribution in Colorado has disproportionately favored white residents in wealthier neighborhoods, state officials have announced several new efforts aimed at making the inoculation effort more equitable.

The plan includes requiring vaccine providers to report demographic data for those getting shots, multi-lingual advertisements aimed at reducing vaccine hesitancy and establishing new pop-up vaccine clinics in areas with more low-income residents and people of color.

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Pitkin County has the highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in all of Colorado, nearly double that of the next highest county. Those alarmingly high numbers have sparked strict public health measures and strained contact tracers – but experts cannot pin down what’s driving the spike.

Drew Beamer / Unsplash

It may be a new year, but the stresses and challenges from 2020 seem to be trickling into 2021. At the national level, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol by right-wing extremists. Locally, people continue to navigate the financial difficulties that have come along with the ongoing pandemic. It has been widely reported that alcohol has become one of the nation’s key coping mechanisms, with consumption rising sharply among adults.

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

A new health order in Pitkin County will ban indoor dining and tighten restrictions on hotels and rental units beginning Sunday. The new rules, voted into effect by the Board of Health on Monday, come as the county’s soaring coronavirus rates rank second-worst in Colorado. 

Courtesy of Aspen Valley Hospital

Roaring Fork Valley health leaders say high levels of local demand for coronavirus vaccines are outpacing new shipments of doses from the state. That is partially due to recent and sudden changes to the state’s priority guidelines, which made people 70 years of age or older eligible for the vaccine.

Courtesy Nevada Public Health

Dulce Leyva is a bilingual contact tracer who lives in Reno, Nevada. Her job is to reach out to people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and make sure they're self-isolating. And she tries to help them remember who they've been around and could have been exposed to the virus.

 

Colorado has changed its vaccine distribution plan to give higher priority to residents who are 70 years or older, along with essential frontline workers.

Gov. Jared Polis says the vaccines for older Coloradans are starting now in counties that have completed distributing their first doses to frontline health care workers.

Polis estimates it should take about four to five weeks to get the vaccines to any Coloradan aged 70 or older who wants it.

The Food Bank for Larimer County’s warehouse in Loveland looks like a factory assembly line. People are busy preparing and packing provisions for when the doors open in an hour.

"Cookies, protein bars, coffee – a little of everything," says volunteer Ruben Marez. "I kind of like to mix and match."

Every year Marez travels to volunteer with the Red Cross and help with disaster relief. This year, he decided he was needed close to home and began volunteering at the onset of the pandemic.

Rae Ellen Bichell / KUNC

Updated at 12:58 p.m. Wednesday

State health officials say a Colorado National Guard member has the country’s first confirmed case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. that some scientists say is more contagious. This is the same variant discovered in the United Kingdom. According to a news release, the Colorado State Laboratory confirmed and notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the finding.

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Pitkin County moved to "Red Level" restrictions Tuesday after exponential increases in local rates of coronavirus. Under the new rules, personal gatherings can only happen with people in the same household, offices and gyms are capped at 10% capacity and restaurants are limited to 25%. Last call is at 9:30 p.m. and they must close at 10 p.m. 

Courtesy of Valley View Hospital

The first batch of coronavirus vaccines has arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley, heralded by many as the beginning of an end to the global pandemic that has infected thousands in the area, and created nearly a year of frustration and hardship for local businesses and their employees.

Indoor dining is allowed across the Mountain West. But new research shows that even with current social distancing guidelines, the coronavirus can spread easily inside restaurants.

The U.S. hit a horrific milestone this week: More than 3,000 COVID-19 fatalities in just one day. But rising deaths do not necessarily translate into rising concern.


Kim Zimmer / Aspen School District

For many of us, the ongoing pandemic has impacted our mental health in surprising ways, and this includes young people.

In the latest conversation from our “High Risk At High Altitude" series, Aspen Public Radio talked with local behavioral intervention specialist Sonja Linman about what she’s learned from her work with local kids and their families.

Jim Clarke / Associated Press

Colorado received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday as part of the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history.

In April, Google and Apple launched software that state health authorities can use to build COVID-19 contact tracing apps. But fewer than half of U.S. states have taken advantage, and most people living in those states aren't putting the apps to use.

In the Mountain West, Colorado's Exposure Notifications app has had the most success, with about 20% of the state's population having downloaded it. But fewer than 3% of Wyoming and Nevada residents have downloaded their states' smartphone apps.

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