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COVID surge in Montezuma County puts pressure on Cortez hospital

Tanya Daughtry, a pharmacy intern at Southwest Memorial Hospital, shows a vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine available at the Cortez hospital. A co-worker fills syringes.
Increase in number and severity of cases puts Southwest Memorial Hospital near capacity

A continuing surge in coronavirus infections in the past week has put pressure on Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez as cases have become more severe and hospital stays have become longer.

On Oct. 26, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 183 new cases in the county since Oct. 19, an increase of 10% compared with the previous seven days’ total of 166 new cases.

One new death from COVID was reported this week.

CDPHE reported 3,181 positive cases and 37 deaths from COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Southwest Memorial reported an increase in COVID patients, averaging five to seven per day, said Marc Meyer, director of Pharmacy and Infection Prevention at the hospital.

The patients’ length of stay has increased to an average of 12 days because of more severe symptoms, up from a stay of five to seven days.

“It is starting to put the crunch on hospital capacity, but so far services have not been cut,” Meyer said.

Regular hospital services, including all surgeries, continue, and new patients have been admitted, he said Wednesday.

Last week, the 20-bed hospital was full, and this week, several beds have been available each day. The hospital has isolation rooms for COVID patients and 12 ventilators if needed.

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Southwest Memorial does hundreds of COVID tests per week for the region. Last week, the positivity rate was 25%, or one in four testing positive for the disease.

“That is back to the high point from last winter,” Meyer said.

Once or twice per week, Southwest Memorial transfers more severe cases of COVID to hospitals that can provide a higher level of care in Grand Junction, Denver and Colorado Springs.

After reaching full capacity, Southwest Memorial can transfer new COVID patients to other Colorado hospitals as part of a statewide agreement.

The deal also requires Southwest Memorial to accept COVID patients with less severe conditions from hospitals that have reached capacity.

Meyer said the hospital has accepted COVID patients from hospitals that have run out of room, but the number and names of the hospitals were not immediately available.

Southwest has been administering 80 to 100 vaccines and booster shots per day. The vaccination rate for staff is 84%, Meyer said.

Montezuma County has an average one-week positivity rate of 15% according to CDPHE, which is at the red “severe risk” level. La Plata County has an average one-week positivity rate of 7%, which is the yellow “concern” level.

The overall vaccination rate for Montezuma County is 71%, and for La Plata County, 78%.

Active outbreaks in Montezuma County
  • On Oct. 1, Cortez Middle School reported that 20 students and two staff members had tested positive.
  • On Oct. 1, Kemper Elementary reported 13 students and one staff member had tested positive.
  • On Oct. 1, Montezuma-Cortez High School reported nine students and two staff members had tested positive.
  • On Oct. 4, the Dolores middle and high schools reported 18 students and four staff members tested positive.
  • On Oct. 8, Dolores Elementary reported five students and one staff member tested positive.
  • On. Oct. 8 the Montezuma County Detention Center reported 27 inmates and six staff members had tested positive.
  • On Oct. 22, Cortez Public Works Department reported seven staff members had tested positive.
Vaccines available

The Montezuma County Public Health Department and Southwest Memorial Hospital offer COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots at no cost.

The health department offers COVID vaccines on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Call 970-565-3056. Southwest Memorial offers free COVID vaccines at its retail pharmacy Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 970-564-2280 for questions.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com