A year of COVID-19 in Colorado through the eyes of 2 doctors


DENVER (KDVR) — On Friday, it will be one year since just about everyone’s world drastically changed. That’s when Colorado confirmed its first case of COVID-19.

Just 11 days later, on March 16, Denver Health received its first positive COVID test result.

Dr. Sarah Rowan, an infectious disease and public health expert, was on the floor at the hospital and remembers the day very well.

“The ice is broken,” she said. “And within the next few days, we had several patients in the hospital with COVID.”

Several soon become dozens. Then hundreds. And eventually nearly 2,000 COVID patients.

“We knew we were going to hit a big surge,” said Dr. Anuj Mehta, a pulmonologist who saw the sickest of those patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

“We overwhelmed, I think, the people resources, but luckily we never ran out of hospital beds or ventilators,” Mehta said.

Denver Health, like most hospitals, quickly expanded its ICU from 59 to 77 beds.

Most of the COVID patients recovered and were discharged. But despite the best of care from Dr. Mehta, Dr. Ivor Douglas and others, 99 patients never recovered.

“I personally held the hands of people as they passed away when their family members couldn’t. And I remember each one of their faces,” Mehta said.

COVID-19 has killed nearly 6,000 people in Colorado, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

It’s also brought attention to the disparities of healthcare in America and the Mile High City.

During the first seven months of the pandemic, people who identify has Hispanic or Latino made up more than half of Denver’s COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, even though they’re just a quarter of the population, according to a report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“What we don’t know, is how we as a society can rearrange our approach public health to put people first who don’t have the access and that don’t come from the same background that we do,” Rowan said.

Denver Health is addressing the disparities. The hospital has helped take testing and vaccine sites directly to underserved communities.

Rowan and Mehta hope this will serve as a lesson for everything from preventative healthcare to the next pandemic.

When asked if they believe this kind of a pandemic is a once a 100-year event, Rowan responded, “I don’t think we know. If I were to tell you something now, I would 100% be wrong.”

“The interconnectedness, the global travel … puts us at a really high risk for another pandemic,” Mehta said. “So 100 years – I would love to say that, but I don’t know. I think sooner.”

In that case, here’s to hoping it’s 99 years.

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