“Oh, are we back to that again?” It wasn’t a particularly woeful comment, or even annoyed necessarily, but rather it just struck me as resigned. This was the reaction I overheard from a man who had just walked into our Hospital’s East Entrance, when our security officer politely requested he don a mask after we had reinstated our mask requirement for staff and visitors.
As I write this, Pitkin County’s COVID-19 community level is high. Based on CDC guidelines, when the community transmission level is high, hospitals and healthcare facilities should require masks to protect our patients and staff. While not good news, this development does not come as a surprise to us since public health officials, including those at Pitkin County, have been warning that colder weather and indoor gatherings, along with increased visitation to the community, were likely to cause our COVID rates to rise. At the same time, our staff have been impacted as well. This has prompted us to move to the cautious level on the AVH COVID status dashboard, even though it isn’t only COVID that is to blame.
While our status rings familiar, and expected, there is a new dynamic to our rising rates of illness: much higher rates of RSV and the flu than in past years at this time of year. Like COVID, these not only make the afflicted feel miserable, but they also represent a serious concern to the most vulnerable among us. Our Emergency Department is seeing increased numbers of all three illnesses, as well as the norovirus (which afflicts our GI systems), with some patients being admitted. In many cases, patients are being diagnosed with more than one virus at the same time. For these reasons, Dr. Catherine Bernard, our Chief of Medical Staff, and her colleagues are recommending getting updated on COVID vaccinations and boosters, and getting the flu shot, while at the same time taking reasonable precautions such as wearing a mask and avoiding indoor gatherings when possible; particularly if you are at higher risk for illness and complications. COVID is still the third leading cause of death in the U.S., with over 230,000 people having died thus far in 2022. Of course, please stay home if you are feeling ill and help reduce the spread of whatever may be ailing you.
The really good news for us this holiday season is that we are overwhelmingly vaccinated for COVID and the flu in our community. Because we take care of ourselves, and each other, we can enjoy all that we love about the holidays and spending this special time of the year with friends and family. After all, a valley as vibrant and holiday-spirited as ours will never let some simple and easy precautions, and even occasional changes in plans, dampen our festive spirit. So, by all means, get outside, partake in holiday cheer, and enjoy! We deserve it.
In this issue, we share some tips to stay healthy during the traditional cold and flu (and COVID and RSV) season, with special tips for parents on how to protect your small children from RSV. We also offer holiday hours reminders for our Snowmass Clinic and After-Hours clinic in Basalt should you need care. You’ll find a helpful video about MyChart, our exciting new tool for staying connected to your new electronic health record called Epic. We also have information regarding our upcoming blood drives, which are always popular. And finally, enjoy some high-altitude cooking and baking tips and tricks.
With best wishes for a joyful and healthy holiday season,