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Multiple illnesses are hitting our community; HRRMC Emergency Department being impacted

If it seems like everyone you know has been sick, is sick, or might be sick, you’re not imagining it. Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) offers these words of advice:

On a daily basis, CCPH is hearing about waves of various illnesses hitting our community, and they range from mild to severe while also impacting otherwise healthy individuals.

Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom.

Reports from Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center (HRRMC) indicate that the emergency department has recently been inundated with COVID, influenza, and sometimes both.

National news is also reporting on influenza and RSV outbreaks daily. CCPH Deputy Director Emily Anderson shared with Ark Valley Voice that “immunity debt” may be a factor in the recent trends. In other words — we’re paying for the past few years when we went around masked, and stayed away from crowds.

According to CCPH, it is imperative that we do what we can to protect ourselves and loved ones from serious illness as well as minimize the impact that this has on our healthcare system.
If someone is sick with a respiratory illness regardless of what it is, we are asking that the public be considerate and take the recommended precautions.”

According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s respiratory data dashboard, COVID-19, RSV, and influenza rates and hospitalizations are currently increasing across the state. It noted that: “We do not yet know if they will reach the same peak as they did in the winter of 2022-2023, but it appears as though they are headed in that direction. With many visitors gathering inside for the holidays and ski season, we all need to look out for each other.”

Living with COVID-19 is not over and done

The end of the COVID disaster declaration does not mean that living with COVID is over. We may be weary of COVID after living with it for almost four years, when in fact, it may well become an annual ritual with seasonal peaks and valleys. Or, morph into something new.

How can I do my part as well as help others?

With an uncertain future, Chaffee County Public Health is encouraging everyone to do their part to prioritize health this respiratory illness season. It is recommended to follow at least a five-day isolation period and to wear a mask for the five days after that. Masking to protect oneself or others is still an effective strategy in mitigating the spread of viruses.

Getting vaccinated is a highly effective tool to preventing severe illness and hospitalization from influenza and COVID. And yes, even if fully vaccinated from either COVID-19 or RSV, you may come down with a mild bout, but it still protects you and others.

Households should secure their allotment of four FREE tests per residential address from the federal government. A quick on-line form will get the tests on the way to you via U.S. Mail. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises consumers to be wary of other sites or being asked for a credit card – these are scams.

And, if you have tests at home, check the box before you throw them out, check the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) site as many tests have a lifespan beyond their original expiration date.

Only 13 percent of Colorado is up to date on annual COVID immunization

Most insurances cover the cost of these, and Chaffee County Public Health has a program that can offer them for free in situations where someone does not have insurance. Only 13 percent of Colorado has gotten the annual COVID shot in comparison to 19 percent nationwide. Compared to Colorado’s otherwise generally healthy profile, this is very concerning.

A New Year Message from Chaffee County Public Health

As healthcare providers and leaders, we have patiently implemented the longstanding public health measures that continue to be recommended by the CDC, including testing, isolation, masking, etc. We hope that someday soon, COVID evolves into an illness where these measures are no longer as necessary as they have been, and we can treat it similarly to other respiratory illnesses. However, we are not at that point quite yet.

Hopefully, we will experience a calm and manageable respiratory illness season this year and for years to come, and it is going to take everyone to do their part.

I wish everyone a safe, healthy, and happy 2024!

Andrea Carlstrom, Director
Chaffee County Public Health

Editor note: This guest column edited for length