PUEBLO — The COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of challenging for veterinarians across Colorado. This week, a COVID-19 outbreak at a Pueblo veterinary clinic forced them to dramatically reduce their services because of a staff shortage.
Dr. Tiffany Barr-Ashby said her father and another veterinarian founded Mesa Veterinary Clinic in 1978. She said the clinic has always been busy, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult to keep up with the demand. "Stressful is probably the best way to describe it... We've always known busy, but this has been more insanity than busy," said Dr. Barr-Ashby.
For more than a year, she said the pandemic has been both mentally and emotionally draining on the staff. "We started curbside the minute the pandemic started and the volume's never once let up... Anywhere from 800-1,000 calls a day for a small community clinic," said Dr. Barr-Ashby.
Dr. Barr-Ashby said when they are fully staffed, there are around 40 employees. Right now, they have approximately 35.
From September 28 to October 5, Dr. Barr-Ashby said five of their team members tested positive for COVID-19. The first positive case was found in a vaccinated employee. The clinic reported the cases to the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment.
Guidelines from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment define an outbreak as five people testing positive for COVID-19 where transmission is identified between the individuals.
On Tuesday, Dr. Barr-Ashby said they were notified by the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment that all of their unvaccinated staff must be sent home to quarantine. She said it totaled to around half of their employees. "Anybody that called today that can't get in anywhere else, and wants to know when we can schedule them, it may not be until next year," said Dr. Barr-Ashby.
Those with the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment said they followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which states unvaccinated people who are exposed to a positive COVID-19 case must be quarantined and monitor for symptoms at home.
However, sending home so many employees has forced the clinic to change the way they operate for the time being. Dr. Barr-Ashby said they only have enough staff to monitor the phones and care for already hospitalized patients. She said they will do the best they can to squeeze in emergency cases, and help pets with critical medicine or food needs. "Sad for the community. That we've been here for 50 years and we can't be here. And it's been off and on like this for 20 months, but this is the first time we've had to restrict the services this much," said Dr. Barr-Ashby.
Dr. Barr-Ashby said the unvaccinated staff members should be finished with their quarantine on October 21.
The Pueblo Public Health Director, Randy Evetts, said the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment and Mesa Veterinary Clinic are discussing precautions to reduce and control current and future spread of COVID-19, and to assure their critical services are available to the region.
News5 reached out to several people who commented on the clinic's Facebook post. Deann Pujol provided this statement:
They are an excellent clinic. They work really hard to serve our community. They have been working under even more challenging circumstances as they have done their best to care for a tremendous volume of patients throughout the ongoing pandemic. It is very sad that the pandemic has struck the clinic so virulently and I hope and pray all affected doctors and team members have a full recovery and the clinic can reopen soon.