By Jamie Leary

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – As state leaders work toward a gradual reopening of many businesses soon, restrictions inside Colorado’s intensive care units will likely stay in place much longer.

“We, especially in the ICU (intensive care unit) and in the respiratory units, we’ll probably be on the precautions like the high alert levels, the personal protective equipment for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Ahmad Rashid, a pulmonologist working in critical care at National Jewish Health and Swedish Medical Center.

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Rashid gave CBS4 a look inside the ICU at Swedish Medical Center Monday and while things appeared calm, the threat of the novel virus was very much real.

“Our ICUs right now, we have a significant amount of patients who have COVID-19, who are on the mechanical ventilation and in the process of getting off the ventilation, but it’s not overfull. We still have a lot of capacity where we can actually have more patients,” he said.

It’s one of the reasons he believes a gradual reopening of business across the state is possible at the end of the month, with one large caveat.

“You would do that obviously with the caveat that you know you may see a second surge, a second peak, when people go out and intermingle but given, you know, our hospital’s capacity, we’re talking about like a little microcosm of our community,” said Rashid.

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The staff at Swedish, along with health care workers across the state, have been prepping for a new surge. And while many businesses are looking forward to returning to normal, Rashid says he has accepted that it will be a long time before things in the ICU return to the way they were.

PPE sits outside each COVID-19 patient room. Anytime staff enter they are protected head to toe. It’s a fresh set of gear each time and something staff are finally adjusting to.

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“A monitor goes off, an alarm goes off, like people (used to) rush in to do that, and we can’t do that. We have to take our time to keep our nursing staff safe,” he said.

As of Monday, there were 41 positive COVID-19 cases at Swedish Medical Center, and while many require the help of a ventilator to recover, Rashid says he is seeing fewer critical cases.

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“People can get better. We have had deaths obviously with people who have had COVID — some of them have been young — but a majority of them can get better and a majority of them are in the process of getting off the mechanical ventilation.”

Rashid says the biggest change for staff has been putting their own personal protection first. Not rushing to a patient the second help is needed has been tough. Some have even moved out of their own personal homes to make sure they are keeping themselves, their families and patients safe. It’s a new reality, but one Rashid and many by his side have trained their entire lives for.

“We who work in the ICU are pretty resilient people. It is a stress, but you know we deal with it, that’s what we train for.”

Rashid seemed confident about a gradual reopening of business around the state but also stressed that the stay-at-home order has made a huge difference inside the ICU. As long as it is in place, he urged people to continue to stay strong and stay put.

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Jamie Leary