El Paso County hits highest COVID-19 hospitalization numbers for 2021

Over 200 COVID confirmed hospitalizations recorded on Wednesday
El Paso County hospitals hit highest COVID-19 hospitalization numbers for 2021
Posted at 12:06 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 14:12:29-04

EL PASO COUNTY — According to El Paso County Public Health's COVID-19 data dashboard, the county has approximately a 10% positivity rate. Those with El Paso County Public Health would like to see that number cut in half.

As of Thursday morning, the incidence rate was 313.2. On July 1, the incidence rate was about 60 per 100,000 people. A spokesperson for El Paso County Public Health said the incidence rate has been at an elevated level for the past few months, which will be seen in hospitals.

The average daily hospital admissions among El Paso County residents declined over October, but those with El Paso County Public Health said that data can generally lag a bit. For a better idea of how many people are hospitalized in Southern Colorado, the data submitted by regional hospitals gives a more accurate snapshot (slide six of the dashboard). It shows on Wednesday, October 20, there were 207 people hospitalized in El Paso County with COVID-19 confirmed cases, which is the most people hospitalized with the virus in all of 2021.

The Chief Medical Officer at Penrose-St. Francis Hospitals with Centura Health, Dr. William Plauth, said over the past few months they have experienced a significant rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations. "As we've seen a marked increase in our COVID patients over the last two months, about 98% of those were Delta variant... We're still seeing about 85% of those who are in our hospitals have been unvaccinated. So, those who have been vaccinated can still require hospitalization, but their chance of that and the severity of illness is markedly reduced," said Dr. Plauth.

During the last week and a half, Dr. Plauth said their El Paso County locations have dealt with a surge of patients with COVID-19. "About two weeks ago we thought we might be on a plateau, and were hoping that we would start seeing our numbers decrease like Denver had been experiencing," explained Dr. Plauth.

He said the majority of their COVID-19 patients are local to Southern Colorado. 65% are from El Paso County, and 35% are from other areas in Colorado. When someone is hospitalized with the virus, they tend to stay in the hospital for a long period of time, according to Dr. Plauth.

The emotional and physical fatigue of the hospital staff is evident, said Dr. Plauth. "It's one thing to deal with emergencies over the course of a week or two. We're coming up to 20 months or more of dealing with this, and now we're in our fifth surge."

As of Wednesday, UCHealth hospitals in the Pikes Peak Region were caring for more than 100 patients who either have COVID-19 or are suspected cases. Throughout their system, there are more than 300 patients with COVID related cases. Those with UCHealth said they have not experienced a volume like this since December of 2020.

The impact of the COVID-19 hospitalizations have touched every corner of UCHealth's Southern Colorado locations. "We've surged into all locations within our hospital, and are finding extra beds to put people within the hospital, and trying to find extra staff," said the Chief Medical Officer for UCHealth in the southern region, Dr. David Steinbruner.

When News5 spoke with Dr. Steinbruner, he was preparing to help his staff in the emergency department. It was not the first time this week he did that. He said the emergency department is experiencing the most visible strain, but every area of the hospital has felt the ripple effect. "We actually are boarding people in places where we recover them from surgery, because we just need a place for them to be," Dr. Steinbruner explained.

Dr. Steinbruner said the majority of their patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are from Southern Colorado. "We essentially shut down COVID transfers from other states a while ago, and we shut down a lot of transfers from out of state full stop. Even people that are used to referring to us just over the border, in say New Mexico, we've had to say no to a lot of those patients as well, which is really difficult, because we know they don't have a lot of places to go," said Dr. Steinbruner.

Dr. Steinbruner said they have seen many people from bordering counties with low vaccination rates coming into the hospital with COVID-19 who really need respiratory support. Individuals who typically use their UCHealth locations for medical care unrelated to COVID-19 have been increasingly difficult to schedule, according to Dr. Steinbruner.

"Please get vaccinated. I know people have concerns. I know they've heard a lot of things. But, I will tell you that I firmly believe these vaccines are saving people's lives, and I really think that being part of the solution is getting vaccinated and helping us to get through this," said Dr. Steinbruner.

On Thursday, 77.95% of eligible Coloradans had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 71.72% of eligible Coloradans being fully immunized.

UCHealth hospitals also reduced their visitation policy to one visitor per patient. A spokesperson provided News5 with the following statement regarding the decision:

UCHealth made the decision to modify its visitation policy for all its hospitals and clinics when positivity rates for COVID-19 tests analyzed in our labs was at 10% or higher for seven days in a row. The policy went into effect Monday for all UCHealth hospitals and clinics in Colorado, and we began communicating this late last week to our patients, visitors and the public.

UCHealth had allowed two visitors per patient since February 1. Last year, as we faced the fall/winter wave of COVID-19, we reduced to 1 visitor per patient. These changes are intended to protect our patients, visitors and health care workers while still allowing our patients to have visitors. We know how important visitation is for our patients and their recovery, and when community transmission rates fall, we will again allow patients to have 2 visitors per day.