COVID-packed hospitals delaying cancer surgeries, emergency care

Coronavirus

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — COVID hospitalizations are at their highest levels this year in Colorado.

Colorado’s new COVID case rates are going up as the national rate is falling. Dr. Richard Zane at UCHealth said Monday that healthcare is at its breaking point.

“If you have a heart attack, get in an accident, have a stroke, it’s likely that you are going to have delayed care, and delayed access to care because of the huge number of COVID patients that are hospitalized now. We simply don’t have room for regular care,” Zane said.

Scheduled surgeries drastically limited

UCHealth facilities have been at capacity for weeks. Hospitals are already using atypical spaces, and for the last eight weeks, they have drastically limited scheduled surgeries.

“It’s not an easy thing to tell someone that we are going to postpone their cancer surgery, or postpone their hip replacement,” Zane said.

Gov. Jared Polis signed new health orders Sunday. One of them could allow hospitals to divert patients to other facilities.

Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander, said that while some hospitals are full, others may have room. The state’s overall capacity is hovering around 90%.

“That means 10% of our beds are available, and as of today, that’s about 900 hospital beds that are available in the state of Colorado,” Bookman said.

“It’s really all about identifying every single available bed in the state and making sure that we are using them,” Bookman said.

Why are Colorado’s hospitals seeing high hospitalizations?

The reason for high hospitalization rates in Colorado remains somewhat of a mystery, according to health officials.

“Since Colorado was one of the few states to have early and aggressive vaccination, we are seeing that immunity may be waning off for a certain subset of the population and possibly causing more breakthrough infection that may be contributing partially do this,” said Dr. Jaya Kumar, chief medical officer at Swedish Medical Center.

According to state data, about 80% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. As case numbers and hospitalizations rise in Colorado, the country as a whole is seeing numbers drop.

“I think we’re all a little unsure of why our COVID numbers continue to go up when we see other states are seeing a decrease. Certainly, our weather, we’re all moving back indoors again, and that helps the virus spread,” said Cara Welch, senior director of communications for the Colorado Hospital Association.

Although hospitals are stretched thin, Welch said they discourage people from putting off important medical care.

“If someone is experiencing chest pain and was going to call 911, they should still call 911. You should go to your doctor for your annual exam, make sure you’re staying on your regular medications, do all of those preventative steps. A lot of what we’re seeing right now are people who didn’t do that for whatever reason over the last 19 months, and now they’re really sick,” Welch said.

How to ease capacity issues in Colorado hospitals

The vast majority of hospitalized patients in the state are not vaccinated. Doctors say the best way to ease this situation is for more people to get vaccinated. Plus, if you are sick, ask about monoclonal antibody treatments right away.

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