County health officials prepare for a 'surge'

At this hour on March 20, crews from Gunnison County Public Works are ripping up 20,000 pieces of interlocking rubber from the Fred Field Building at the Gunnison County Fairgrounds — the room is being prepared as an alternative treatment facility as emergency managers prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases. This comes as the county now reports 18 positive cases of novel coronavirus.

Co-incident commanger C.J. Malcolm told the Times this morning that the building is well-suited for an alternative treatment center in that it has a strong exhaust system which will keep fresh air flowing through the room should it become filled with patients. The room will be used in the event of hospital overflow to treat noncritical patients who need more support than they can receive at home.

“Our goal is to never use it,” Malcolm said.

Additionally, Malcolm said a type 2 strike team has been requested which will consist of five ambulances containing pre-hospital ventilators which will be stationed in the Gunnison Valley. The strike team — a homgenous group of resources, in this case ambulances — will service the region stretching from Chaffee County to Telluride. It will tranfer patients who need a higher level of care out of region to other facilities for treatment.

This past Wednesday, two patients who needed critical care were transferred from Gunnison Valley Hospital (GVH).

“Wednesday put a face on this for me — it was our first wave of critical patients,” Malcolm said. “This is difficult for our community to manage, but we had a relatively smooth transition.”

Two ambulance calls were made to the GVH’s Senior Care Center yesterday, however Macolm said they were “standard calls,” and there was “nothing alarming” about them. A senior task force has been assembled to ensure the best public health protocols for the community’s aging population is met, Malcolm said.

County Health and Human Services Director and co-incident commander Joni Reynolds said while testing is still being performed, it is not essential for people to take care of themselves if ill. Rather, she explained, testing is needed when a patient is critical and doctors must determine the best course of treatment.  Meanwhile, cars are once again lined up at Gunnison County Public Health for screening.