Health Director Warns Hospitals May Soon Turn Patients AwayBy Dillon Thomas

LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Health experts in Larimer County say hospitals in their region are close to turning away some patients due to soaring levels of COVID-19 cases. The county has filled all of their regular ICU beds, forcing hospitals to double up rooms with patients.

The county recently reported that ICU’s across the county were operating at nearly 110% capacity as the delta variant surged through northern Colorado. Tom Gonzales, Public Health Director for Larimer County, said the issue is being experienced throughout northern Colorado and is largely attributed to residents refusing the COVID-19 vaccines.

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File photo (credit: CBS)

“When we look at our ICU’s, we are overburden in Larimer and Weld counties,” Gonzales told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “Our hospitals here in Fort Collins are almost at the breaking point where they will have to turn people away.”

Gonzales said 48% of current ICU patients in Larimer County are being treated for COVID-19.

Of all patients in the county being treated for COVID, whether in the ICU or simply admitted for general care, a startling majority are not vaccinated.

“Nearly 80% of all of our hospitalizations are unvaccinated. In the ICU it is more than 90%,” Gonzales said.

Contrary to what many speculated, Gonzales said the current capacity issues at local hospitals is not due to accepting patients from neighboring states.

“Ninety percent are from Weld and Larimer counties. It is a local situation,” Gonzales said.

Vaccines are readily available throughout the region with many clinics having dozens of available appointments open any given day. At the height of the vaccination process, Larimer County was administering more than 4,000 vaccines a day.

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Currently, the county is only receiving reports of fewer than 100 new vaccinations per day.

The health department said they expected a decrease in demand as time progressed. However, with tens of thousands of residents still not vaccinated the low number of new vaccinations per day was of concern.

Gonzales said, even with a majority of residents vaccinated, recent death rates due to COVID were spiking. Gonzales said a staggering majority of deaths connected to COVID-19 were among the unvaccinated.

“September has become the third deadliest month for Larimer County throughout the pandemic, even with the lifesaving vaccine (available),” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said some hospitals are on the verge of having to turn away some patients seeking medical care due to capacity concerns. Gonzales said hospitals, if necessary, would have to prioritize emergencies. Depending on a ranking system some would be accepted into hospitals, others would be redirected to other area hospitals.

Many times emergencies come down to taking action as quickly as possible. Gonzales hoped more people would get vaccinated in order to prevent hospitals from having to turn away those in need.

“(Some people experiencing emergencies) need immediate attention, and trying to relocate them to another hospital can mean life or death,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said the health department is concerned about the coming months. Cases of RSV are rising among youth, and Gonzales warned a mild influenza season could be devastating for area hospitals.

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Flu vaccines are currently available at most clinics and pharmacies.

Dillon Thomas