Hospital Accommodates High Covid Incidence

Plus: Students Go Global For ICU Gift

THE SAN LUIS VALLEY had 107 new verified cases of covid-19 during the two-week period ending last Thursday (6/25), and on that basis the state health department marked the incidence as “high” in the six-county region.  But it was not creating a treatment crisis like those being reported in the urban areas of Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Donna Wehe, director of communications for SLV Health, described the situation instead as “calm, safe, but very busy on our floor” at the 49-bed hospital in Alamosa that serves as the medical hub for the Valley. 

“We have been fortunate to have some of our clinical nurses step up and fill some staffing needs due to an average of about six Covid patients hospitalized, some on ventilators, some not, some in ICU, others in our other negative pressure rooms.  It all is closely monitored every day with an eye on our PPE for staff,” she said, referring to personal protective equipment. Visitor restrictions outlined at the beginning of the pandemic are still in place.

The hospital is affiliated with Centura, a rural Colorado health network, but there have not been transfers to other hospitals “on a regular basis,” she said.

The SLV is a huge area, about 8,000 square miles, with a population of 48,000.  The “high” ranking — the only one in the state right now — is based on a standard of greater than 100 new cases per 100,000 population. 

The spread of the coronavirus apparently grew from outbreaks among agricultural workers. The SLV outbreaks listed as “active” in a statewide alphabetical listing by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment were these:

— Alamosa County: Advance Treatment Center (jail) 20 cases including untested probables, Colorado Mushroom farm 18, Friday Health Plans (office) 14, San Luis Care Center (nursing home) 12 residents and one death.

— Costilla County (Blanca):  Blanca Potato Factory (warehouse) 3 cases.

— Rio Grande County (Center) : Hi-Land Potato Inc. 13, Mountain King Potatoes 25.

The SLV death toll involving covid-19 is seven, including three in Alamosa County, two in Saguache County and two in Rio Grande County.  The potato outbreaks near Center involved people living in Saguache and Rio Grande Counties. 

North of the SLV, Chaffee County was stable with 77 cases reported by the state, despite the shock of 19 deaths, most attributed to an outbreak at Columbine Manor nursing home in Salida.

The county public health briefing summarized its successful strategy this way:

  • “In Chaffee County we:
  • Maintain 6 feet of physical distance
  • Wash our hands often
  • Properly wear cloth face coverings in public
  • Stay home when sick
  • Get tested if we have symptoms.”

Testing is on Tuesdays at the Salida hospital, Heart of the Rockies Medical Center. SLV residents who consider Salida as their “medical home” are eligible, by appointment no later than Monday, the public health briefing said.


Back to Alamosa. SLV Health reported a gift to the hospital from STEM students in the Denver area: an “intubation box” created from an open-source design by a doctor in Taiwan and other internet sources. The science, technology, engineering and math students and their teachers used CAD design technology, 3D printing, laser engraving and CNC machining, according to the news item.

The intubation box protects medical personnel from exposure to aerosolized coronavirus during the difficult process of inserting oxygen tubes from ventilators into the lungs of critically ill patients.

The project was headed by David Avner, an emergency medical physicians with University of Colorado Health, with teachers from Newton Middle School, Arapahoe High and Mountain Vista High and the cooperation of Centura.

Dr. David Avner delivers the intubation box (SLV Health photo)

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  1. Patricia Kvill says:

    Larry, your reporting is critical and informative. It’s hard to find out exactly where the covid is being spread in other places. Keep safe and wear a mask when you can’t keep 6 ft distance. The mask will partially protect you but the key is you are protecting others from any Covid you have. If everyone wears a mask, the chances of transmission are greatly reduced. I like the article from NPR on wearing masks:

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About ljcalloway

I am a writer. I love the Rocky Mountain West. For more than 50 years my primary residence has been in the upper basin of the Rio Grande.