As skyrocketing COVID-19 cases across the metro area severely strain hospitals, contact tracing efforts and other mechanisms for managing the pandemic, Jefferson County Public Health's deputy …
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15,146 — Total Cases
388 — Total Deaths
1,038 — Ever Hospitalized
204 — Currently Hospitalized
10,386 — Total Recovered
Source: Jeffco Public Health statistics as of Nov. 16
As skyrocketing COVID-19 cases across the metro area severely strain hospitals, contact tracing efforts and other mechanisms for managing the pandemic, Jefferson County Public Health's deputy director said Thursday that metro Denver health departments are in talks about a metro-wide stay-at-home order that could begin “in the next week or two.”
UPDATE: The state health department announced new public health restrictions on Nov. 17.
“The metro Denver public health group has been having a lot of conversations about what it would look like to do this as a group of health departments,” said JCPH Executive Director Jodi Erwin during a meeting with the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners. “And as of last night, what I heard is that it is going to be at least another week before we get there because we want to make absolutely sure we have all of our ducks in a row.”
Dr. Mark B. Johnson, the medical director at JCPH and its former executive director, said the departments are talking about that time frame for a new stay-at-home order because it would provide enough time for them to reach out to the business and health care communities as well as other stakeholders in order to develop “a united plan” for approaching the stay-at-home order.
Johnson said the departments are also hoping that timeline will provide a chance to identify what was learned during the last stay-at-home order that could be replicated or implemented to allow the counties to move in a more targeted direction “instead of just the blunt `everybody stay at home.'” However, Johnson did not elaborate on how a more targeted stay-at-home order might look.
“I think that's really what we are hoping to do over these next two weeks is to learn what we can, to work with the groups that are involved and to make this a bit more of a surgical strike instead of just a hammer,” Johnson said.
Jeffco is one of several counties in the Denver metro area that has already “far exceeded” the thresholds for new cases and hospital capacity to be placed under a stay-at-home order by the state according to its new COVID-19 status color dial. However, the state has so far avoided forcing counties into a stay-at-home order.
Rising hospitalizations a concern
Erwin said JCPH has been hesitant to impose a second stay-at-home order to this point despite the sharp rise in cases because it wanted to avoid putting pressure on businesses and also buy time to see whether hospitalizations, which had not initially been increasing as sharply as new cases, would start to rise.
However, that now appears to be happening. As of Nov. 12, Jeffco's hospital beds were 77% occupied while ICU beds are 94% occupied. Erwin said Jeffco's two hospitals — St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood and Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge — are also among the metro area hospitals that are anticipating staffing challenges in coming weeks as some staff members are unable to work as a result of their own exposures to COVID-19.
The impacts of the spike are also extending beyond hospitals. Erwin said the Jeffco coroner has informed the health department that “there are concerns around the region about capabilities for storing the deceased.”
The increase in cases has also made contact tracing increasingly difficult and ultimately less effective.
“We got to a point a couple of weeks ago where we could not ask all of the questions we typically ask when we are doing these investigations,” he said. “We are not really asking people where they were exposed.”
Those challenges have also made it increasingly difficult to pinpoint where in the county the virus is — and is not — spreading.
“We get a lot of comments from people saying you don't know data that says `this is spreading here, here or here,” said Erwin. “We also don't have data that says it's not spreading in certain places because it's so overwhelming with our cases right now. Clearly, we have community spread, it's prevalent throughout the county and throughout the region.”
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