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Colorado hospitals in "a world of trouble" without social distancing, ER doctor says

Posted: 4:41 PM, Mar 24, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-25 15:54:55-04
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AURORA, Colo. — The biggest hospital in the Denver metro area is days away from running out of personal protective equipment, as coronavirus cases have doubled there in recent days, the hospital's head emergency room doctor said Tuesday, emphasizing the importance of social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Richard Zane, chief of emergency medicine at the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, said social distancing "is the single most important thing that I could ask you to do" to help hospitals handle the surge of patients. The number of confirmed cases in Colorado grew to 912 Tuesday afternoon, including 11 deaths and 84 hospitalizations.

"It may seem like a hard thing to do," Zane said. "It may seem like a hard thing to understand, but what I can tell you is if we continue with what I saw in Wash Park on Saturday last weekend, we are in for a world of trouble. And there's no chance we will have enough of anything to take care of [patients], so we must take social distancing incredibly carefully."

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Zane's concerns echoed concerns across the health care industry in Colorado, as hospitals prepare for a surge of coronavirus patients and the need for vital equipment, such as ventilators. Denver and Boulder both have stay-at-home orders going into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Tuesday said they are still working with hospitals across the state to determine the number of intensive care beds available and how to increase those numbers and equipment such as ventilators.

Gov. Jared Polis has said the state might need as many as 7,000 ventilators to treat coronavirus patients and others who need them once the virus reaches its peak in Colorado. Zane said if Polis' estimate is accurate, Colorado hospitals have nowhere near that many ventilators available.

Polis for weeks now has also emphasized the need for more personal protective equipment in the state, as healthcare workers interact with infected patients.

"We have days of personal protective equipment [left] — not weeks, not months, certainly not years," Zane said. "The concern is we are not going to ask a health care provider to put themselves in a dangerous situation. So we have to be able to provide equipment so that they can protect themselves and care for patients."

The University of Colorado Hospital — the second-largest in the state with 698 licensed beds, behind UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs (713 beds) — and Zane said the facility has not yet reached capacity. But the hospital is already preparing for more patients. The hospital did not have specific coronavirus case numbers on Tuesday, though Zane said the number of cases have doubled by the day.

"We are spending all of our time thinking about how we can prepare for the surge of patients that may come from COVID-19," Zane said. "And that includes having canceled a lot of scheduled and elective surgical cases, office visits, and then looking at all nontraditional space to see if we can turn it into inpatient capacity, ICU capacity and increasing emergency capacity."

Zane said he'd like to see Polis issue a statewide stay-at-home order.

"We must do social distancing," Zane said, "or else someone's going to have to make a decision about who gets a ventilator and who doesn't."