Vail Health Hospital seeing young COVID-19 cases amid surge
New variant more contagious than a cold
Here’s yet another thing upended by the COVID-19 virus: The common cold is no longer the most contagious respiratory virus.
Chris Lindley, Vail Health’s chief population health officer, said that the new omicron variant of the virus is “the most contagious respiratory virus we’ve ever seen.”
That level of spread means that in the past week, Vail Health has seen almost 50% of its tests come back positive. That now includes kids younger than 5 who are not eligible for vaccines.
According to The New York Times, Pitkin County had the highest per capita COVID-19 case rate of any county in the nation Thursday, followed by Summit County. Eagle County was fourth on the list.
Given the local testing data, and case rates, Lindley said you should assume that almost 1 in 2 people are infected.
The new, rapid spread of the virus comes on top of what’s already Vail Health’s busiest period, the Christmas holidays.
Sarah Drew, Vail Health’s director of emergency and trauma services, said the hospital has treated the “occasional” pediatric patient with COVID-19 over the past two years. But on Dec. 29 alone, the emergency department saw five children younger than 5. Two of those kids were “very sick,” Drew said. One had to be transported to Denver.
Drew added that the emergency department has also seen kids with a combination of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.
Other respiratory viruses are also showing up in greater numbers than the same period in 2020. Drew noted that people a year ago were wearing masks, staying home and taking other anti-COVID-19 precautions.
Those other respiratory illnesses were all but invisible last year, she said.
Lots of patients
Lindley added that Vail Health, as of Dec. 29, had more COVID-19 hospitalizations than at any other point in 2021. Vail Health’s urgent care centers throughout the valley are seeing their highest-ever volume of patients, he added.
While some early research indicates the omicron variant isn’t as severe as the original COVID-19 virus and its delta variant, it’s not yet known just how hard the virus hits people. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s website notes that more research is needed to determine just how severe this fast-moving variant can be.
“A mild virus doesn’t put people in the hospital,” Lindley said. Drew added that parents don’t take their kids to the emergency department with mild symptoms.
The quick spread of the virus, even to those who have been vaccinated and boosted, has hit hard across the valley’s workforce.
Drew said that as of the morning of Dec. 30, six of her employees were out with positive tests.
That’s put even more stress on health care workers, she said.
“Everybody has seen the strain,” Drew said, adding that while Vail Health is an “amazing” place to work, “We’re not immune to the stresses of all health care workers.” That’s especially true when coworkers get sick.
Those positive tests have come even in a workforce that’s entirely vaccinated.
Lindley said while vaccines were touted by some as a way to avoid getting the disease, that was never the intent. The vaccine was designed to limit the severity of the virus.
“What we’re seeing… is the vaccine is effective at keeping you out of the hospital and keeping you alive,” Lindley said, adding that Centers for Disease Control data released this week shows that unvaccinated people are 17 times more likely to end up hospitalized than those who have been vaccinated.
You can get vaccines
Vaccines are still in good supply at Vail Health, Lindley said. Those who haven’t yet received a vaccine can get one easily. And, Drew added, people can get the vaccine as soon as they feel better.
The difference is those who have monoclonal antibody treatments are advised to wait 90 days before receiving another vaccine.
While Vail Health has been administering about 12 of those intravenous treatments per day, the supply is starting to run low.
Lindley said Thursday that Vail Health has a roughly five-day supply at current use rates.
He added that there are also ample supplies of tests, but mostly rapid tests. The problem with those quick tests, particularly at-home versions, is that people often don’t use the self-tests properly.
Those tests work best if you do a deep throat test, then a nasal swab as deep as possible, he added.
While the omicron variant runs through the valley, both Lindley and Drew urged people to wear masks, stay home if they feel ill and, perhaps most important, take care of themselves by getting outside every day, eating well and not smoking.
Getting vaccinated is still important, Lindley said. So is testing at the first sign of symptoms.