For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some senior-level healthcare providers at major Colorado hospitals are vocalizing their support of lifting mask mandates in many school districts and cities.
While some at UCHealth and Banner Health have vocalized their support for fewer mask mandates, those who CBS4 spoke with said Coloradans should continue to take the virus seriously and be cautious.
“Now that we have seen COVID prevalence come down, I am grateful that the (mask) compliance is loosening up in the community,” said Margo Karsten, Western Region President for Banner Health. “I believe it is the right time (to lift many mask mandates).”
Banner Health is one of Colorado’s largest medical providers, serving northern Colorado. Karsten told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas the hospital system is still seeing many people being admitted to their hospitals with COVID-19. However, the stress on the system is starting to lift as cases decline following the Omicron surge.
“In the next couple weeks it is going to significantly come down,” Karsten said.
Health providers, including UCHealth, have seen a drop in COVID-19 patients being admitted to the hospital lately. However, people are still coming to the hospital with COVID-19.
According to UCHealth, 94 patients in their ICUs have COVID-19, 64 of those patients are not vaccinated and 67 patients are currently on ventilators with 49 of those not fully vaccinated.
Both Banner Health and UCHealth said not all of their COVID-positive patients came to the hospital specifically for COVID-related symptoms, though many still do.
Karsten said Banner Health has seen enough of a drop in COVID cases of late that they are once again able to welcome all needing assistance without fear of having a bed for them.
“We have bed availability in all areas,” Karsten said. “(Among staff) there is optimism and there is exhaustion. There is a dichotomy where finally we are seeing trends in the community come down, and people are so exhausted from the work they have done for two years.”
“We are, fortunately, seeing a downturn,” said Jean Kutner, Chief Medical Officer at UCHealth’s University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. “That said, we still have a lot of people who are getting sick with COVID. Across the whole state, there are more than 1,000 people who have COVID and are still in the hospital. It is definitely getting better, but it is by no means gone.”
Many major school districts across the state have joined major cities and counties in announcing mask mandates being lifted to start the month of February.
Kutner said she felt safe going out in public without a mask while outdoors. However, she said she would still choose to wear a mask while among others in an indoor setting.
Mask mandates being lifted does not mean masks are ineffective or unneeded. Kutner related the lifting of mask mandates to giving more responsibility to individuals. Kutner noted that the government doesn’t require you to eat healthily or to exercise. However, most people realize that doing both will facilitate a more healthy lifestyle.
Kutner encouraged people to still wear masks when they feel they need to better protect their health and the health of those around them.
“While there is a sense of relief, we still need to be very thoughtful and make sure we are doing everything we can to stay well so we don’t continue to fill up the hospitals,” Kutner said.