MMH spikes in COVID cases, sees record volume of patients

Dr. Matt Cotham and Deb, RN review a patient chart in the emergency department. (Leann Tobin/MMH)

The pandemic hit peak levels for Montrose Regional Hospital and businesses in the community in 2021. Montrose County experienced the highest number of cases since December 2020, with increasing numbers, higher death counts and a hospital that stayed at capacity following a surge in late October.

The county’s consistent standing in “level red” on the state health department’s COVID-19 dial has hit businesses considerably throughout the year, but particularly following October’s surge.

Walmart sparked conversation in the community when the corporation unexpectedly closed its doors on Tuesday morning, Nov. 9. The move was made more surprising when they announced that they would be closing at 2 p.m. that same day and would remain closed through Thursday of the same week.

The company-initiated decision was a direct response to increased COVID-19 cases in the county. While Walmart didn’t confirm if the closure was a result of staff being afflicted with the virus, Walmart corporate spokesperson Ashley Nolan told the Montrose Daily Press that the closure would give cleaning crews time to clean and sanitize the building, as well as restock shelves and prepare the store for reopening.

“As you know, several areas across the country have begun seeing a renewed increase in positive COVID-19 cases, and we want to assist health officials working against the pandemic,” the corporation’s statement said.

Other public entities such as DMEA, have returned to remote work and COVID-safety policies first seen in 2020. Many others avoided mask mandates, but continued to monitor the ongoing situation.

DMEA resumed virtual board meetings and said they would remain remote until after the December board meeting.

“We’re looking at the number of cases taking place in our community,” Delta-Montrose Electric Association’s board president Kyle Martinez said Thursday Nov. 4, a day after their offices closed to foot traffic.

Offices re-opened on Dec. 10 following the cooperative’s cybersecurity attack; the decision allowed customers to make payments in-person while online accounts were inaccessible.

The hospital, however, found itself contending with the largest number of COVID cases in over a year, along with record volumes of total patients in the institution’s history.

MRH CEO Jeff Mengenhausenspoke with the Daily Press on Oct. 19, reporting 18 cases over the Oct. 15-17 weekend, with six deaths in October, a number that has culminated to 134 deaths throughout the pandemic to date (Friday Dec. 31).

Mengenhausen added that hospital staff were overwhelmed with increasing patient numbers amongst a lack of available beds, a problem that persisted state-wide. Staff had to transfer a COVID-positive patient to Kansas in early October due to the bed shortage while managing an overrun ICU and emergency room.

The hospital even propped up additional beds to accommodate more patients. The CEO described the record-breaking weekend as the busiest day in the hospital’s history, but that record continued to break as the pandemic’s surge rose through the fall.

“Hospitals are very full right now and there are a lot of sick patients in the ICU. More than half the patients in our hospital at Montrose right now have COVID and are in the hospital because of COVID,” Alexis Garza, the hospital’s emergency department medical director, said of the October crisis.

According to hospital spokesperson Leann Tobin, approximately 80% of COVID-positive admissions between August and October were unvaccinated individuals.

Montrose made news when it became a state hotspot in early November, landing a spot as the county with the fourth highest case rate in Colorado.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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