As Denver, Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties implement new indoor mask mandates amid rising cases and hospitalizations of COVID-19, Douglas County’s Board of Health is not considering such a move, according to a county spokesperson.
During a Tuesday work session, the county commissioners — two of whom are also county health board members — were updated on the latest COVID-19 figures in the county, which at the time showed about 90 people in local hospitals for the disease and eight deaths so far this month.
The county’s ICU capacity was 101% full and the inpatient beds were 91% occupied, according to the Tri-County Health Department’s data dashboard.
“We are seeing breaking points in other systems around the state and the metro area,” county Commissioner George Teal said in the meeting. “I have an appreciation for the system here in Douglas County being stressed. There’s a big difference between a system being stressed versus a system breaking.”
Teal and Commissioner Lora Thomas both serve on the county’s recently-formed board of health.
Unlike nearby counties with new indoor mask-wearing mandates, Douglas County has a public health order in effect that prevents businesses from requiring masks. While that order originally halted mask mandates in schools, it no longer applies to the school district after a federal lawsuit was filed against the board of health.
Commissioner Abe Laydon suggested in the Tuesday meeting there are other reasons hospitals are full beyond COVID-19 patients, such as staffing shortages.
“We have hospitals that have space,” Laydon said. “They just don’t have the people.”
Laydon said that he had recently visited Castle Rock Adventist hospital and learned that while there are dozens of open beds in the facility, there’s no one to staff them.
“I continue to wrestle with the intellectual honesty around COVID-19,” Laydon said.
Referencing social media posts about “COVID overrunning hospitals,” Thomas asked a county staff member to clarify if that interpretation of the situation is accurate.
“I would say most assuredly this is COVID-related, (but) it’s not COVID-specific,” responded staff member Jon Surbeck.
Brent Boyer, a spokesperson for Centura Health, which runs Castle Rock Adventist, said Wednesday he could not immediately verify the accuarcy of Laydon's statement regarding open beds in the facility.
Systemwide, about a third of Centura's ICU patients have COVID-19, Boyer said.
"That number, along with the nationwide struggles to recruit health care workers, continues to make hospital capacity a challenge that we actively manage on a day-to-day basis," Boyer said.
Linda Watson, a representative for HealthOne's Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, said that while the hospital is busy, it still has capacity to accomdate all patients.
"There is absolutely a staff shortage," Watson said. "It doesn't impact our ability to deliver high quality care, but it's definitely an issue."
Boyer and Watson both said that another factor adding to the surge is patients who delayed preventative care earlier in the pandemic.
Douglas County recently left Tri-County Health after 55 years after disagreements with the agency about COVID protections. The county formed its own health department but still contracts most of its public health services from Tri-County.
While Tri-County does not provide COVID-19 services to Douglas County, it continues to track cases there along with providing other public health services.
The next meeting of the Douglas County Board of Health is set for Dec. 8.
Tri-County, which still serves Adams and Arapahoe counties, issued a new public health order on Monday requiring masks in indoor places through the end of the year. Jefferson County Public Health’s board and the City of Denver also announced orders requiring masks inside.
In a presentation to Tri-County’s board of health, Dr. John Douglas said that hospital bed capacity in the state is at an “all time low” compared to other points in the pandemic.
In all four counties with mask mandates, businesses can opt out of the mask requirement by implementing a vaccine requirement in their facility.
Reporter Ellis Arnold contributed to this story. This story was updated Nov. 24 to include comments from local hospital officials.
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