Aspen public health officials warn of a ‘triple-demic’

COVID-19, RSV and flu cases could jeopardize capacity at Aspen Valley Hospital

Pitkin County public-health officials are urging residents and visitors to take precautions this season, as a triple threat exists with COVID-19, RSV, and the flu spreading quickly throughout the community.

“We are in what we are calling the potential of a triple pandemic or triple-demic,” said Dr. Kim Levin at Thursday’s Board of Health meeting, noting that hospital capacity is a concern in Aspen, as well as across the state, particularly in pediatric departments and intensive-care units.

Children’s Hospital in Denver was recently over capacity in RSV cases, with tents in the parking lot. That should matter to people in Aspen, as the state is on a tier-one transfer system for pediatric respiratory illnesses; so, if a kid is sick here, there might not be a bed available elsewhere, Levin explained.

“We are in a severe situation,” she said.

If community members and tourists don’t take precautions — like getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and the flu, wearing a mask, using best hygiene practices, and isolating when ill — more people will get sick and jeopardize the capacity at Aspen Valley Hospital, said Carly Senst, COVID-19 epidemiologist and response lead for Pitkin County.

“When hospital capacity is threatened, it doesn’t just impact respiratory patients,” she told the board. “It can impact everything from a skier-versus-skier incident; it impacts heart condition patients; it impacts cancer patients,” she said. “So, I just really want to highlight that this has ripple effects when our hospital capacity comes under fire.”

Pitkin County is experiencing a high level of community transmission of COVID-19, and public-health officials expect that to continue as the holiday season approaches, and tourists begin flocking here.

Aspen Valley Hospital recently moved into a higher-risk category and re-instated a mask mandate for staff and patients due not only in part of COVID-19, but also other respiratory illnesses. 

“At the same time that AVH increased from comfortable to cautious for health-care workers, the decision was made to go back to masking, and I think this was an excellent decision,” Levin said. “This is a reminder that (there’re) no public-health mandates now, so any business can decide to do this if they want to protect their staff.”

Free testing and vaccinations for COVID-19 in the county are set to expire Jan. 1. After that, individuals will need to get vaccines from their medical providers and may incur administrative charges for the services provided — but not for the vaccine, as that is given for free from the federal government.

Also, individuals at risk for severe illness will first need to go through their provider if they wish to be tested to access treatment for COVID-19.

For anyone not seeking treatment, at-home antigen tests will be available for purchase at pharmacies. The Pitkin County Library will continue to hand out antigen tests to the public while supplies last. 

There will be a vaccination clinic on Friday, Dec. 9, at 412 Rio Grande Place in the mobile vax bus, and there will be two more clinics Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 at undetermined locations.

“We need to remind people that vaccinations are free for the rest of the month, so they need to step up,” said Dr. Tom Kurt who sits on the board of public health.

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