Colorado reactivates emergency health care staffing center

The state of Colorado reactivated its health care staffing center on Wednesday to supply emergency help to hospitals and other facilities without enough hands to care for their patients, even though the state’s COVID-19 situation is showing some signs of improvement.

The staffing center had been used from November to March, according to a news release from the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center. During that time, 160 people worked about 4,850 shifts in facilities around the state. A more limited program focused on nursing homes and assisted living facilities continued after March.

A spokesman for the state health department said the center is meant to be a temporary solution for facilities that have a shortage “directly related to COVID-19.” Traveling nurses are going to states that are dealing with surges, he said, so hospitals can’t easily bring in short-term staff.

“The fusion center also helps state agencies maximize efficiency and avoid competing with each other in a very tight health care worker labor market,” he said.

Hospitalizations appear to be slowly drifting down this week, with 956 people receiving care statewide for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon — 16 fewer than on Sunday. More than three in every 10 hospitals reporting to the state said they expect to be short of staff in the next week, though, and a quarter said they’re running low on beds in intensive-care units.

New COVID-19 cases also appear to be trending down this week, but a higher percentage of tests came back positive than at this time last week, suggesting the state may not be testing enough people.

One positive development was that the number of COVID-19 outbreaks in Colorado may be leveling off. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 437 current outbreaks as of Wednesday, up from 415 last week. That’s about a 5% increase, which is the lowest weekly rate since late July.

In most settings, the number of outbreaks remained relatively stable. An exception was correctional facilities, which jumped from 14 outbreaks in jails and state prisons last week to 21 this week.

Schools continued to account for most of the increase in overall outbreaks, with 170 reporting outbreaks — an increase of 14 from last week.

More than half of the school outbreaks involved fewer than 10 people, but some buildings had significantly wider spread.

The schools with the largest clusters were:

  • Loveland High School, Thompson R2-J School District: 68 student cases, four staff member cases
  • University Schools, Greeley-Evans School District 6: 58 students, eight staff
  • Mesa Middle School, Douglas County School District: 47 students, six staff
  • Douglas County High School: 42 students, seven staff
  • Grand Mesa Middle School, Mesa County Valley School District 51: 48 students
  • Power Technical Early College, Falcon School District 49: 35 students, seven staff
  • Mountain View High School, Thompson: 38 students, two staff
  • Northridge High School, Greeley-Evans: 37 students, two staff
  • Vista Ridge High School, District 49: 35 students, four staff
  • Skyview Middle School, District 49: 33 students, five staff
  • Eagle Valley High School, Eagle County Schools: 37 students
  • Mortensen Elementary School, Jeffco Public Schools: 27 students, eight staff
  • Resurrection Christian Middle/High School: 24 students, 11 staff
  • Thompson Valley High School, Thompson: 29 students, six staff

The current school outbreaks have affected a combined 2,240 students, with at least 1,659 of those cases reported in September. Those school-linked outbreaks accounted for about 15% of the 10,666 cases in people under 18 in September.

It’s possible more cases could be linked to schools because a building is only considered to have an outbreak if there are five or more cases that are linked by a common class, activity or bus route. State officials have pointed to youth activities and informal gatherings as significant factors in the virus’ spread, though.

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