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Southwest Health discusses COVID positivity rates, possibility omicron has peaked in Montezuma

Southwest Memorial Hospital
Updates given in latest Facebook Live session Wednesday

Although Southwest Health System COVID-19 positivity rates are still “very high,” the omicron variant might be falling from its peak in Montezuma County.

Southwest Health System has hosted weekly Facebook Live sessions amid the sweep of the omicron variant, and hospital leadership this week reported tired staff, hospital beds at capacity and high but slowly declining positivity rates.

In addition, children nationwide have increasingly contracted COVID-19, but the illnesses have resulted in low hospitalization rates, according to American Academy of Pediatrics data.

While Southwest Memorial beds are full – with about six COVID patients per day in addition to those with other illnesses – it is now easier to transfer patients to larger hospital systems as beds free up.

And, patients are not staying in the emergency room as long. In a Jan. 26 Facebook presentation, the hospital reported an average stay of about six days, significantly down from 18 to 20 days during the delta outbreak.

This and more was discussed in a Southwest Health presentation Wednesday, in which Marc Meyer, director of pharmacy services and infection control, Alan Laird, lab director, Meghan Higman, director of inpatient services and education, and Lisa Gates, chief nursing officer, discussed information on presentation slides, which can be accessed here.

In Montezuma County, there have been 258 new cases of COVID-19 in the past week, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data published Friday. The previous week, from Jan. 21 to Jan. 28, there were 432 new cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, 24 Montezuma County residents have died because of COVID-19, and 60 have died with the virus in their system, according to CDPHE.

From Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, 101 patients sought emergency care at Southwest Memorial, and 35 of them were positive, indicating about a 35% positivity rate. The hospital reported zero deaths, but transferred three patients because of COVID-related illnesses.

The previous week, the positivity rate sat slightly higher at 38%, but hospital leadership agreed 35% was still “very high.”

“Who knows if that trend will continue,” Laird said.

While Laird expressed hope that omicron had peaked locally, he cautioned about making a premature conclusion.

Meyer presented data from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reported more than 2.5 million cases of COVID-19 in children in January.

“That’s a big surge from what we’ve been seeing prior to omicron,” he said.

From Jan. 13 to Jan. 27, there was a 20.7% increase in cumulative COVID-19 cases among children since the start of the pandemic, with 1,958,556 new cases, the AAP data showed.

That week, 808,013 cases were reported among children, representing 22.8% of all cases that week. The rate among children was down from the previous week’s total of 1,150,000 for the week ending Jan. 20.

“Kids tend to decline rapidly,” Meyer said.

“They bounce back really well,” Higman said.

Among reporting states, children comprised 0 to 0.25% of all COVID-19 deaths, and 0.1% to 1.5% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, the presented data showed.

This week, three children were hospitalized at the same time, Higman said.

In January, the walk-in clinic conducted 1,155 office visits. Of those patients, 367 agreed to COVID testing, and of that smaller pool, 154 tests returned positive results, indicating about a 42% positivity rate.

The walk-in clinic performed 186 flu tests last month, with five patients testing positive for Flu A, six for Flu B. Two with Flu A also tested positive for COVID, and three with Flu B also experienced both illnesses.

Meyer fielded a question about Denver’s recent move to end its citywide mask mandate Feb. 1.

Generally, the rural area of Montezuma County falls two to four weeks behind larger cities such as Denver and Los Angeles in terms of COVID-19 trends, he said.

Meyer wasn’t ready to recommend that Montezuma County follows suit.

“As Alan (Laird)’s positivity rate goes down, we’ll be ready to talk about not wearing masks here,” Meyer said.

Referencing a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Meyer said omicron has produced a higher risk of breakthrough cases than delta, and the effectiveness of booster shots begins to wane about six months after the shot is received.

“We know that the vaccine now is not holding for people getting the disease,” Meyer said.

Vaccinations are effective in preventing hospitalization and death, he said.

Reporting on current COVID-19 testing, trends and best practices, Meyer mentioned that the Food and Drug Administration had determined that the CovClear and ImmunoPass rapid tests had a tendency to produce false results.

Amid the state’s recent push to distribute antigen tests and high-quality masks, Southwest Memorial has issued about 800 antigen tests, and has bundles of five surgical and KN95 masks available for pickup.

“They’re flying out the door,” Meyer said.

“I know you have choices for health care, but we really are trying to be the trusted source of information in health care for you,” Gentry said in closing.