Doctor: Sacrifices saving lives in pandemic

An electronic sign along the city trail between Mayfly Outdoors and West Main reminds users to practice social distancing. 

Continued sacrifices by the business community and residents are helping Montrose County combat COVID-19, a viral respiratory illness that had as of Wednesday claimed six lives here, the county’s medical adviser and newly named emergency pandemic specialist said.

“The best outcome we all had hoped for was nobody would die and there would be no cases in Montrose,” Dr. Joe Adragna said Thursday, addressing the perceptions of people who may be underestimating the severity of the virus and the pandemic declaration it prompted.

“The only way we would have been able to do that would have been a lot of luck and a 100-percent shutdown of our civilization. But we’ve had significant reductions in social contact and on the worksite, employee numbers, and it’s because of all those efforts (people) can sit here and say ‘What’s the big deal?’ It’s because we took action,” Adragna said.

“I feel like right now, we’ve got COVID on the ground. Do we get to throw the finishing punch? If we can push on a little bit longer, we can beat this thing.”

People have been adhering to social distancing measures recommended by state and local officials, as well as wearing cloth masks to keep droplets of their saliva from reaching others and potentially carrying the virus to them, he said.

Montrose County has tested more than 530 people. At the time of the last report available before deadline, there were 66 confirmed positives and, according to self-reported information provided to public health, about 14 individuals are recovering from the virus.

The county reported the sixth local death arising from COVID-19 on Wednesday, an 88-year-old man, who had underlying health problems.

The other deaths previously confirmed as COVID-related were of a 61-year-old woman at San Juan Living Center; a 72-year-old man with other medical conditions; a 64-year-old man; a 97 year-old-man and a 75-year-old man.

The county does not provide information as to where the deceased patients resided. The living center previously confirmed the 61-year-old woman’s death and said another resident had also died from the virus, although the Montrose County coroner did not confirm that information.

Adragna explained that testing numbers and results change almost as soon as they are announced, because it is an ongoing process that includes retesting when there are inconclusive results. People looking at published numbers should bear that in mind, he said.

The county follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing criteria, in part to avoid performing tests too soon and getting a false negative, he also said.

The county, hospital and regional partners continue analyzing data to make projections for priorities and resources. “I know our community members are hungry for an answer. I would like to be able to tell them (a specific end date). … We’re not there yet,” Adragna said.

Without measures being taken nationally and in Colorado, where a stay-home order is in effect until at least April 26, there could have been millions of deaths in the United States, based on initial projections, Adragna said. Those projections have since dropped to less than 100,000 deaths, but that is not because COVID-19’s threat was overstated, he said.

“That’s only because of the good efforts we put into this,” Adragna said, highlighting businesses and employees that have lost income and jobs due to the pandemic.

“Their sacrifice saved lives. If we didn’t do anything in Montrose, I believe we would have hundreds of deaths,” he said.

“How can anybody look at those who died and say it wasn’t worth it to try to prevent them from getting this illness? Every one of those lives was precious and we didn’t want to lose any. But because we haven’t lost hundreds, it’s a testament to the sacrifice that our community has made.

“I know people are hurting. ...I know we have saved hundreds of lives at this point.”

During an online update later Thursday, Larry Peeters, the chief clinical officer at Montrose Memorial Hospital, announced that patients in the COVID-19 unit there are now being transferred to ICU or other beds for treatment and the overall patient volume at MMH is down — “which is a good thing,” he said.

Most hospitals in the state are seeing significantly fewer COVID-19 patients than were projected, which Peeters said was the result of social distancing provisions and other steps taken by the state.

Montrose Memorial is developing strategies for resuming the elective surgeries it suspended in March, which was undertaken to conserve resources for COVID-19 patients. Resumption of such surgeries would begin after Gov. Jared Polis lifts the stay-home order and emergency declaration.

“We don’t just flip a switch and go back to normal. It’s more of a dimmer switch mentality,” Peeters said.

During the same update, Colorado State Patrol Trooper Chris Ballenti reminded motorists that all traffic laws remain in effect and that the CSP is still enforcing them, including through tickets and arrests.

City Manager Bill Bell reminded business owners of city-supported programs to help them weather the pandemic. These include a sales tax deferral for businesses with a gross income of less than $2 million a year, although they still need to submit sales tax reports; money for businesses that team up for marketing purposes, and a revolving loan fund. Info: cityofmontrose.org/covid19.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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