El Paso County hospitals ‘extremely full’

Coronavirus

COLORADO SPRINGS — The third wave of COVID-19 is proving to be the strongest in El Paso County as hospitalizations from the virus are reaching the highest levels since the pandemic began.

The 133 COVID-19 patients (10 awaiting test results) that were in the hospital on Tuesday is far the highest reported on the El Paso County Public Health website and more than double the most amount of patients in the hospital during the summer’s surge in July and August. The 14-day average of COVID-19 patient counts stands at 101.27. The height of the summer surge checked in at 58.57.

“What’s going on is the hospital is extremely full,” said Dr. David Steinbruner. “It’s not just today. I have to think about what’s about to come through the door and I’m looking at how many people are sitting in the emergency department and anticipate what tomorrow looks like.”

Steinbruner said there are days where more patients come in than are being discharged in the COVID units of the hospital.

In March, an average of 8 patients was being admitted each day, the highest amount until this fall surge of COVID-19 patients, which averaged 9.5. November 4th recorded the highest single-day amount of new COVID patients admitted to the hospital with 16. Hospitals are trying to balance the unprecedented amount of COVID patients with a hospital’s normal function.

“So that’s sort of the perfect combination to say, we have a problem here. If we’re going to maintain this pace of work and this amount of patients, we’re going to have to think hard about how to decrease the flood of COVID patients coming into our hospital and the only way we can do that is stop the transmission rate broadly,” Steinbruner said.

That means masks, hygiene, physical distancing, and skipping out on a large Thanksgiving celebration this year, according to Steinbruner.

The increase in the community is leading the UCHealth and Penrose-St. Francis hospital systems in El Paso County to consider ways to limit non-emergency procedures.

“We’re continuing to evaluate opportunities to pause some non-emergent/non-urgent procedures, when necessary, so we can help those who need immediate care. This is not an isolated issue; many hospitals and health systems are facing this across the state and the nation right now.”

Centura Health, the parent company of Penrose-St. Francis

Centura said there is an ability to share resources when needed.

Limiting non-emergency procedures would give the hospital to utilize spaces like operating rooms as COVID units, as health care providers must separate COVID patients from other patients as well as each other to limit the spread.

The limit on non-emergency or “elected” procedures are not in place yet, but part of the planning that hospital leaders are evaluating on a daily basis.

Steinbruner said there have been days when the hospital census counts patient load at over 100 percent. He added they are able to implement “surge plans” that brings in more staff and spread patients to different parts of the building.

“We can do that on a given day without COVID but, when you add COVID on top of it, you have to have a plan in place in case you overwhelm those units with PPE, with people having to spend a lot of time on individual patients and you still need the staff available for all the other things going on,” Steinbruner said.

He said they have a good buffer of Personal Protective Equipment right now, but that could change as the pandemic progresses.

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