As the new delta variant of COVID spreads, hospitals and emergency rooms along the Front Range say they are seeing more patients but are not yet overwhelmed. According to the Colorado Department of …
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As the new delta variant of COVID spreads, hospitals and emergency rooms along the Front Range say they are seeing more patients but are not yet overwhelmed.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as of Aug. 20, ICU beds went from 72% to 80% occupancy over the preceding month. In the Denver metro area, hospital officials say they are handling the uptick well but remain concerned as the new COVID variant is a lot more transmissible.
According to UCHealth, after a steady decrease of COVID patients between April and mid-July, cases are steadily rising with more than 200 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID infections being admitted into UCHealth hospitals in Douglas and Adams counties.
Dr. Ben Usatch, emergency medicine physician and medical director of the UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital Emergency Department, said along with the increasing number of patients, frustration among health-care providers is rising.
Usatch said the difference between vaccinated patients with breakthrough COVID and unvaccinated patients is night and day. Most vaccinated patients come to the ER more out of fear and are quickly released, Usatch said.
“Really, we are seeing two flavors of COVID patients,” he said. “The vaccinated have a runny nose, maybe a slight fever and headache. The unvaccinated are ending up in the ICU and deteriorating quickly. The vaccine really does protect from serious disease. It is heart wrenching.”
Usatch said besides the delta variant being a lot more contagious, a big change from treating COVID patients from last year is age. Last year, hospitals were treating more patients over 65. This year, most patients coming into emergency rooms are under 50 and unvaccinated, Usatch said.
At Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Chief Medical Officer Eric Lung said they are not overwhelmed with patients, but the HealthOne hospital is seeing a steady increase of COVID cases between the ages of 18 and 50.
“I wouldn’t say we are inundated with patients at this point. We are managing them well,” he said. “The unvaccinated cases we are treating are a bigger concern. They are more contagious and have a lot more symptoms.”
Like Usatch, Lung said it is frustrating to have a vaccine option available but have emergency rooms still filling up with unvaccinated patients.
“The only way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated,” Lung stressed.
Dr. Katie Sprinkel, an emergency room physician with the Medical Center of Aurora, said it is not about the delta variant, but about treating positive COVID cases.
“The people we are admitting are the unvaccinated,” she said. “In most cases, the breakthrough vaccinated patients are released. Hospitals across the city are going to keep getting full.”
In family medicine, Dr. Anne Jobman, of UCHealth Primary Care in Lone Tree, said general-care physicians have a lot of young adults and children presenting with COVID symptoms.
Jobman said she is recommending a lot of her adult patients go to the ER but children with COVID still seem to be handling the virus well.
“Delta has definitely become the dominant strain in the positive tests we are seeing,” she said. “Child cases are steadily climbing because it is so much more contagious, which is why we are seeing it in unvaccinated and vaccinated patients. The unvaccinated patients who are under 50 are getting very sick.”
Jobman said vaccinated patients are getting better quickly, as they would with a common cold. Vaccinated patients are rarely being sent to hospitals for elevated treatment, she said.
At Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC), Kevin Carney, associate chief medical officer and pediatrics emergency medicine specialist, said there are a lot more concerns for children under 12 as the delta variant spreads.
With children under 12 still not eligible for the vaccine, Carney said they are more vulnerable for the highly contagious variant, especially with schools across the metro area starting this month.
With CHC facilities in Highland Ranch, Aurora, Centennial, Wheat Ridge, Parker and Broomfield, Carney said officials are not hitting the panic button but remain on alert.
“Our cases in children are still average but above our lower numbers,” Carney said. “We are not overwhelmed but reports are showing cases are creeping up on us. As it continues to spread, we just keep recommending wearing masks, get the vaccine if you are eligible and wash hands and toys regularly.”
Carney said CHC has no doubt that children should be back in school in person, but precautions should be taken, including wearing masks to protect children who cannot yet get vaccinated.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Dr. Eric Lung and misidentified Children’s Hospital Colorado.
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