Cook: We need to take this seriously — now
In just a week, we’ve gone from seven to more than 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Eagle County. The real number of local cases in the Eagle River Valley is more likely hundreds if not thousands of people. It is everywhere here; we just don’t have the test results to prove it, and we won’t anytime soon.
As we’ve seen in other countries, the way this disease spreads exponentially means it starts slow and then explodes and overwhelms hospitals and the health care system. This pattern stalls the health care system’s ability to adequately care for the surge of the severely sick and dying. This is what we are seeing in Italy and Spain right now.
The most effective way to shorten the cycle of the COVID-19 virus is to be diligent about practicing social distancing — reducing or eliminating gatherings that actually spread the virus in the community. We’ve seen this work in China and South Korea. The United States and Colorado have followed suit as evidenced by public health orders from Gov. Polis and our own Eagle County public health department.
The truth is, if we don’t commit to disciplined social distancing now, our 56-bed Vail Health Hospital will be overflowing within 2-4 weeks. We will not have enough respirators to keep people alive, and locals of all ages will be dying. The other hospitals in America will be full too. We’ve already had a handful of COVID-19 patients transported to Denver for more advanced care; however, once the Denver hospitals are full, we will no longer be able to transport these people to a lower elevation.
As prepared as our hospital, county and public health department have tried to be, it won’t matter if we, as community members, relax on the importance of social distancing. We were one of the first communities in the state and nation to start aggressively testing, with Colorado’s first drive-up testing center open on March 6 in Gypsum. We set up a mobile emergency department trailer outside our hospital to protect patients and staff. We’ve done more tests per capita than any community in America. But the results are trickling in, and an inaccurate picture has been painted. Regardless of the number of confirmed cases, we are experiencing significant community spread, and when someone is infected, we aren’t sure where or how.
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We have all been told it takes 24-48 hours to get test results, but it’s taking three to five days or more, and it’s getting worse. We have 400 local tests awaiting results, and we expect many of them to be positive. In the meantime, we are sending on average 70 samples for testing per day, and we’ve switched from the state testing center to commercial labs to hopefully speed up our results. We are prioritizing the limited medical resources to test the highest risk patients, health care providers, and others that are dedicated to this community response and we are using every channel possible to increase the turn-around time for the tests we do run.
Social norms are incredibly hard to adjust, but saving our valley means starting now. Psychologically, when things feel safe at home, we feel safe in general. Don’t be fooled. Everything non-essential has to stop or close for now. It also means we have to cancel everything, and that goes against who we are as humans. This means no more dinners with friends, casual kid NERF gun wars in the neighborhood or basketball at the park.
It’s going to be hard and feel wrong on many levels. But, it’s supposed to be hard because we are fighting a war of life and death right now. Not tomorrow, but now. It’s time to wake up. Sacrifices must be made, or we will lose people we know and love. At this moment, the focus must be on keeping lots of people from dying. Every three days, the number of infected individuals will continue to double unless social isolation is adopted by everyone here.
Thank you to Eagle County, our school district, many businesses and Vail Resorts for rolling out restrictions or closing up shop. As one of the most popular international ski communities in the world, people from all over the globe have been traveling to our valley for the past three months. Many have brought COVID-19 here or taken it back to their homes. Like generations before us who united as a nation during world conflicts, we must now practice that same collective action and selflessness against an invisible enemy. We are all in this together. Please be part of the solution.
Every person and family in this valley must start social distancing now. #ProtectOurValley, #DoingMyPartCO
What is social distancing?
Social distancing means deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. This applies to everyone, including children. A few best practices for social distancing include:
- Stay at least 6 feet from others
- Do not hug or high-five — wave to each other instead
- Do not gather in groups of more than 10 people — and still honor the 6-foot rule in these small groups
- Work from home
- Use electronic devices to visit family or friends instead of in-person
- Sit outside or go on a walk, bike ride or hike — just keep the 6-foot distance from others in mind
- Get more information on social distancing in the Eagle River Valley by visiting http://www.vailhealth.org/ProtectOurValley.
- Behavioral health providers are here to help during this tough season. Find a therapist at http://www.eaglevalleyBH.org.
- For those who cannot afford it, food is available through the local Salvation Army and The Community Market.
- For the latest on COVID-19 in our Valley, visit http://www.ecemergency.org.
- To see changes to access and operations at Vail Health, Colorado Mountain Medical, Howard Head Sports Medicine and Shaw Cancer Center, visit http://www.vailhealth.org/covid19.
Will Cook is the president and CEO of Vail Health.