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Colorado Hospitals Brace For Surge In COVID-19 Cases Following Thanksgiving Festivities

DENVER (CBS4) - Infectious disease experts say a surge in COVID-19 cases are likely around the corner, following Thanksgiving gatherings and travel. Hospital officials tell CBS4 they're prepared.

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Following a mandate from Gov. Jared Polis this month to have an amplified surge plan, Denver Health says it has increased patient capacity by 50%.

"We had to think very creatively with our bed situation in the hospital," said Dr. Heather Young, an infectious disease expert at Denver Health.

The hospital has increased its capacity by making larger single rooms into double rooms, hiring more nurses, and implementing a hospital-at-home option for less-critical patients.

"We've also taken our acute care beds that we have used to take care of less sick people, and we've turned them into ICU capable beds, with increased monitoring," Young said. "In terms of our hospital at home, those are patients who potentially would have been hospitalized elsewhere, but we are able to give them vital sign machines, at-home pulse oximeters, and thermometers, so that they or a family member can take their temperature and their vital signs, a couple times a day, and then they get calls from outpatient providers to make sure that they're succeeding."

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Dr. Young says Denver Health has taken these steps to also try to avoid having to send patients to a field hospital, like at the Denver Convention Center.

Statewide, the Colorado Hospital Association has created a buddy system for hospitals to use.

"The hospitals have been buddied up, so a smaller rural hospital that has fewer resources has been buddied with a hospital on the Front Range or the Western Slope that they can call when they need a higher level of care for some of their patients," said Julie Lonborg with the Colorado Hospital Association.

Lonborg says the hospitals can also send patients to other hospitals if they reach full capacity. For example, this month, one hospital on the Front Range sent 20 less-critical COVID-19 patients to smaller hospitals on the Eastern Plains.

"That was the very relief valve that hospital system needed, so they could continue to take in patients that needed more critical care," Lonborg said.

Lonborg says these are crucial measures, because hospitals statewide are already seeing about 80% of ICU beds being used.

Fortunately, Dr. Young says COVID-19 hospital treatments are getting better.

"Overall, the duration of hospitalization has gone down pretty dramatically, from 10 to 11 days back in March, now to approximately three days at this point for COVID patients," Dr. Young said.

But Dr. Young and Lonborg continue to urge people to take precautions to slow the spread and prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

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While Lonborg says many hospitals are cancelling or postponing some non-urgent surgeries to make more room for COVID-19 patients, Dr. Young also reminds folks that if you do need to go to the hospital for something non-COVID related, it is important to get the treatment you need, and don't hesitate to get help.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in collaboration with the governor's office, sent the following statement about preparations for a possible surge:

We are hopeful that Coloradans are doing everything possible to limit additional spread over the holiday weekend. We know a lot of families sacrificed, only having dinner with people they live with and connecting virtually with other loved ones. We are grateful, and ask everyone to please
keep it up. We will be monitoring the spread of the virus and are preparing for additional cases, if/when they come. We need to continue to do everything possible to avoid additional strain on the healthcare system.

There are five steps to supporting our healthcare system in Colorado:

  1. Use Colorado Hospital Association's Colorado Hospital Transfer Collaborative to move patients from facilities with high density to sites with a lower density.
  2. Activate the Inter Agency Interfacility Transport Center to bring in support from healthcare facilities as well as emergency medical system providers.
  3. Coordinate through the State Staffing Shortage Fusion Center to support short-term staffing requested due directly to COVID-19.
  4. Activate State EOC medical staffing contracts to supplement staffing within hospital and healthcare facilities.
  5. Activate alternative care sites, which we hope we never have to do.
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