Doctors warn against COVID complacency

Vaccines are going in arms, but much remains to be done to stave off outbreaks

Thelma Grimes
tgrimes@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/1/21

UCHealth doctors at the Highlands Ranch Hospital said while there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still inside the tunnel. Dr. Ben Usatch, medical director for …

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Doctors warn against COVID complacency

Vaccines are going in arms, but much remains to be done to stave off outbreaks

Posted

UCHealth doctors at the Highlands Ranch Hospital said while there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still inside the tunnel.

Dr. Ben Usatch, medical director for the emergency department at UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital, said as more vaccines are being distributed and the public continues following mask-wearing recommendations and practicing good hygiene, the hospital is seeing fewer serious COVID cases in the ER.

Last year in early March, Usatch said they were able to get prepared as COVID made its way into the U.S. and eventually to Colorado.

“By the time it hit us with the vengeance that it did, we had our safety mechanisms in place,” Usatch said. “I've never seen anything like this. It's a threat to practitioners and we really didn't have a clear path to treatment. I would argue we still don't have a clear path to treatment.”

At times over the past year, Usatch said the Highlands Ranch hospital was at 104% capacity due to COVID patients. Being prepared, they were taking patients from other regional hospitals and from out of state.

“We were getting patients from everywhere just to give them the best chance of getting through this,” he said. “We are talking about very, very sick patients.”

Dr. Lisa Wynn, OB/GYN and service line chief for women's services at UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital, said with little data on what COVID does to pregnant women, the last year was stressful, especially for first-time moms.

Wynn said she had several pregnant women diagnosed with COVID, and at least two were hospitalized. Both those moms delivered healthy babies and were able to recover.

On the emotional side, Wynn said it was tough as pregnant women had baby showers through Zoom, or had to get a sonogram or exam without their partners, taking away some of the most special moments of pregnancy.

Now, Usatch said there is hope that the vaccine is providing a light at the end of a very long tunnel. However, in calling it a “blip on the radar,” he said Coloradans cannot let their guard down.

“We are one good holiday of bad practices to another explosion of cases,” he said.

Nationally, only about 50 million Americans have been vaccinated — about 15% of the nation's population. Usatch said it is just the tip of the iceberg. In order to reach herd immunity, the U.S. will have to get 70% of the entire population vaccinated.

As politics and stories of bad reactions to the vaccine continue, Usatch and Wynn agreed it's important to trust the science.

“Everything that we do from me giving you a cough drop to prescribing an antibiotic ... everything has a risk/benefit ratio,” Usatch said. “If everything in medicine had a risk/benefit ratio like this, my job would be easier. There is a landslide of benefit versus the slight risk of an allergic reaction.”

Over the last year, Usatch said he saw patients admitted into the ICU, or ultimately the morgue, noting that the side effects of the COVID vaccine are not even in the same ballpark.

“You get a little bit of body aches and chills the day after the second shot,” he said. “It's a small price to pay for the safety and the contributions to society by contributing to herd immunity that comes with the vaccine.”

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