Hospital leader warns of “Grim December” if people have large gatherings for Thanksgiving


COLORADO SPRINGS — Hospitals in El Paso County have begun to cancel or delay non-emergency surgeries in order to accommodate a massive increase in COVID-19 patients.

In one week, from Nov. 13 to Nov. 20, El Paso County saw a 69-percent increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, from 126 to 209.

“If we don’t do something right now to turn the tide of this thing, it could be a very grim December,” said Dr. David Steinbruner, the chief medical officer of UCHealth Memorial Hospitals in Colorado Springs.

In the county’s UCHealth Hospitals, Steinbruner notes a similarly massive increase—from 75 COVID-19 patients last week to 110 this week.

He says the trajectory of cases and how hospitals fare through the winter is contingent on what people do over Thanksgiving. The more people gather, the more people at a dinner increase, the chances of hospitals being pushed to the limit, and increases the chances of more people dying from COVID-19.

“The biggest fear we have going into the Thanksgiving holiday is that people are going to gather with multiple family members of different generations and get together and spread this virus unknowingly,” Steinbruner said, “The consequences of that is some people are going to get extremely sick and end up in our hospitals.”

Space is just part of the problem, and one of the easier ones to solve as non-emergency procedures are rescheduled and canceled. After that, the problem becomes staffing the COVID unit with enough doctors, nurses, and respiratory specialists to give the massive amount of patients coming into the hospital with adequate care.

Typically, UCHealth and other hospitals rely on staffing companies’ contracts to provide staff when they need more.

Governor Jared Polis said Friday he had activated an emergency contract to bring more health care staff to hospitals that need it. Still, with nearly every state in the country facing shortages of staffing, it will continue to be a problem so long as more COVID patients come into the hospital.

“We can’t do this without the public. We can’t do this without masks on, the distancing, without the washing of hands, without saying to people it’s Thanksgiving, but I’m not necessarily going to get the whole family together. We just need people to believe us when we say it’s really hard. We can do it, but we need help.” Steinbruner pleaded.

Steinbruner acknowledges that the percent of people who catch COVID and ultimately need a hospital bed is small, but when that percentage is spread out over the county’s population of over 720,000, it’s pushing hospitals and their employees to the limit.

“It’s not that we want to personally degrade their economies. WE don’t want to affect their livelihood, we do not want to do that, but we recognize that we’re in real trouble, and we’re seeing it [in the hospital], and we’re trying to express to you how real it is so that everyone adjusts fire.” Steinbruner said.

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