DENVER – Colorado health officials reactivated crisis standards of care for emergency medical services (EMS) Friday in response to the explosion of cases of the novel coronavirus across the state, which is now affecting EMS staff and their ability to respond to everyday emergencies.
The move by Dr. Eric France, the chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) comes in response to many EMS staff falling ill with COVID-19 and high demands for service, according to a statement from the state health department.
It’s the first time in nearly two years since the state activated these standards of care.
Under the guidance, EMS personnel can stop life-saving measures in patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, and only the most severe cases will be taken to the hospital. The guidance under crisis standards of care for EMS services even lists criteria for people under the age of 60 and has a script for personnel letting people who may need care know that “emergent transport by ambulance to the emergency department likely outweigh the benefits.”
In all, it provides guidance for personnel at call centers, dispatch centers, and emergency medical service agencies on how to interact with potentially infectious patients, maximize care for multiple patients with limited staff and emergency vehicles, and determine what kind of treatment to provide, such as whether and where a patient should be transported for further care, if deemed necessary, according to the news release.
This particular “crisis standards of care” is not for hospitals and acute care facilities, which would provide guidance to the state on rationing care across Colorado hospitals, ultimately deciding who gets to live or die, whether it’s due to COVID-19 or for something else.
The state has also not activated crisis standards of care for out of hospital care providers, crisis standards of care for specialty patient populations, or crisis standards of care for personal protective equipment.
“If you are sick and think you need emergency care, please continue to use 9-1-1 or seek emergency care as you would normally. Your health in an emergency is always a priority. The dispatchers and emergency medical service experts will help you determine if you need immediate care. They may also advise you to seek care through a normal doctor’s appointment, if your case can wait,” said Dr. Eric France, Chief Medical Officer. “With increasing demands on hospitals and EMS, we need to make sure we can provide care to anyone who needs it immediately. Crisis standards of care help us to do that. We also need every Coloradan over the age of 5+ to get vaccinated so we can lessen the strain on our healthcare system and protect everyone.”
Colorado reactivated it’s crisis standards of care for staffing of health care systems at the beginning of November last year, to better give the medical community guidance on how they should allocate scarce resources.
The announcement from the CDPHE comes on the same week that metro area hospitals warned of “razor thin” hospital capacity that could get worse if more frontline workers continue to get sick with COVID-19, dwindling the numbers of an already exhausted workforce who is also leaving the profession due to burnout after two years of battling the pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 10,700 Coloradans so far.
It also comes the same day as some schools across the metro announced they’ll be switching to remote learning due to the explosion of COVID-19 cases across their counties.
As of Friday, Colorado reported 1,374 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, with numbers expected to climb as the omicron variant continues to spread unchecked across the state.
Of those hospitalized, 71% were unvaccinated — a concerning number, since about 80% of hospitalizations were among this group up until recently.
Health experts continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and getting a booster 5 months after your second dose to prevent the worst outcomes from the illness. Avoiding large gatherings, ventilating indoor environments, physically distancing from each other, proper hand hygiene, wearing a higher-quality, tight-fitting mask, and staying home if sick, can all help cut your risk of getting infected with COVID-19 – even if you’re vaccinated and boosted, which health experts say continues to be the best tool in the fight against the pandemic.