Larimer County hits dangerous ICU capacity as COVID-19 cases rise
Fort Collins and Loveland intensive care units are filling up as the growing number of COVID-19 cases pushes Larimer County into a high risk category.
On Friday, Larimer County reported 81 new cases of coronavirus, the second highest number of cases in a single day since the pandemic began.
Intensive care units at Banner and UCHealth hospitals in Loveland and Fort Collins were at 91% capacity, according to the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment. Not all of those occupying ICU beds are COVID-19 patients.
The county dashboard reported 29 COVID-19 patients in hospitals within the county as of Friday.
ICU capacity ebbs and flows daily as hospitalized patients move between units and are admitted and discharged, but the state is warning at the current rate of infection, hospitalizations will exceed the April peak by Nov. 10.
And if the infection rate does not trend down, intensive care units could exceed capacity in January, or sooner, if contacts increase over the upcoming holidays.
COVID-19 tracker:Larimer and state case, death and hospital data for October
“There is a small window to improve transmission control over the next few weeks,” said Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, in a news release. “To limit increasing infections and avoid peaks that could strain health care capacity over the next three months, a substantial increase in transmission control is needed.”
It's not uncommon to see hospitalizations reach high levels during the winter flu season, but that typically doesn't happen until January and February, said Sara Quale, Banner's Northern Colorado spokeswoman.
Based on models creating during the spring surge, Banner expects volumes to continue to increase in November and remain high in December.
UCHealth's current number of COVID-19 patients systemwide is just more than half what it saw during its peak in April.
UCHealth Northern Colorado was treating just more than 30 COVID-19 patients in its Weld and Larimer hospitals as of Friday, spokeswoman Kelly Tracer said.
"We encourage everyone to take this increase in COVID-19 cases seriously," Tracer said. "Follow all health department guidelines and wash hands, wear masks and watch your distance around other people." The health system also encourages people to avoid gatherings or more than five people at a time.
McKee Medical Center, Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies combined have 43 ICU beds and another 37 critical care beds in specialty units such as cardiac care or neurology ICU that can be used as ICU beds, according to a Coloradoan analysis of Colorado Hospital Association data.
Both health systems have surge plans that allow them to quickly increase ICU capacity by reopening rooms used at the height of the pandemic in the spring and by converting single rooms to double rooms.
Among UCHealth's and Banner Health's five area hospitals in Larimer and Weld counties, there are 65 ICU beds and another 47 that could be used as intensive care rooms. There are a total of 840 hospital beds.
UCHealth's Longs Peak Hospital and Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs provide another 15 ICU and critical care beds and 90 beds overall to the system's capacity closest to Larimer and Weld counties.
If national estimates are correct and about one-third of all coronavirus hospitalizations will require ICU-level care, Northern Colorado could still find itself hundreds of beds shy of what it needs.
Northern Colorado had an alternative care site set up at The Ranch in case hospitals were overrun with with COVID patients until early October when Gov. Jared Polis closed the facility.
It was one of five alternative care sites set up throughout the state, but the overflow need never materialized.
Lori Hodges, director of emergency management for Larimer County, said the Colorado Convention Center is still set up as an alternate care site and Larimer County patients would go to that facility if local hospitals fill up. "This would be the same if we had The Ranch site opened as they would want to use one center prior to opening multiple centers," Hodges said.
The Colorado Convention Center has the capacity to expand if needed.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at email@example.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.