Both Larimer and Weld counties are now out of ICU beds as the number of hospitalizations rises in the current wave of the pandemic, driven by the delta variant. For three weeks in a row, critical care capacity at Larimer County hospitals has now been exceeded.
Intensive Care Unit capacity has been at or above 100% since the end of August.
“I’m concerned. This can’t last much longer,” said Larimer County Public Health director Tom Gonzales.
“I’m begging, pleading our community to get vaccinated as soon as possible and wear a mask indoors right now so we can slow the spread and give our hospitals a break,” said Gonzales, who noted that some health care workers are doing 14 hour shifts and are exhausted.
People who are unvaccinated, he says, don’t understand the serious nature of the infection.
“They just didn’t realize how serious COVID-19 is. And they’re telling the nurse and the respiratory therapist ‘I should have gotten vaccinated.’”
Hospitals in both northern Colorado counties have been transferring patients to other hospitals along the I-25 corridor to relieve some of the pressure.
“We are running at or over normal capacity in our NOCO hospitals, which puts enormous strain on our health care operations and our team members,” said Banner Health in a statement. The hospital system has facilities in both counties.
UC Health said all of its hospitals have seen increases, but in northern Colorado, it’s worse.
“Many UCHealth hospitals have put surge plans in place to increase the number of ICU beds that we have available for patients. These plans may include converting non-ICU units into patient care areas with ICU capabilities,” said the hospital group in a statement.
Caring for COVID patients puts additional pressure on ICU space because the duration of the stay of those patients can be especially long, often over two weeks.
“Once you get somebody intubated on a ventilator, they’re there for a long time. And that is really hard for a hospital system,” said Gonzales.
In Weld County the situation is compounded by a lower vaccination rate.
“We’re a little behind other counties,” said Eric Aakko, spokesman for Weld County Health. “Unfortunately what we’re seeing though, too, is people who aren’t vaccinated are primarily driving the amount of hospitalizations right now.”
Nearly all patients in ICUs are unvaccinated. Weld County has low rates for a variety of reasons, said Aakko. He noted the large area of the county, the population of Hispanic residents, where vaccination has lagged. And recognized misinformation among residents.
“With anything these days there is misinformation and we just want to … tell people it is safe it is effective and we’ve got plenty of vaccine available.”
COVID said Gonzales, was often being shared at home.
“We’ve seen some spread in our schools, some of our businesses. We’re urging employers to go back to virtual work environments if you can.”
The biggest job both health departments have is convincing people about vaccinations that can hold the disease back. But it’s a difficult job noted Gonzales. “It’s COVID fatigue. And we all have it. I see my staff, they’re tired too… We’re not out of this. We’re close. If we can get 10%, 15% more people, go from 72% vaccinated up to 85% to 90% of our population vaccinated, that will really curve this rate we’re seeing, our case rate.”