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COVID Update Presented to Alamosa School Board

This letter was read at the October 7, 2021, School Board Meeting to clarify some earlier conflicting information from a previous meeting.  The numbers of COVID cases affecting ASD are currently high and the board and administrators are working on a safe plan to keep students in person as much as possible.Buchholz, DO

Dear Alamosa School Board Members, Parents, and Community Members,

I would like to provide an update regarding our current COVID-19 situation in the community and the strain it is placing on our community and our hospital. We are a team of 5 full-time providers (three internal medicine physicians and two nurse practitioners) and 10 part-time internal medicine physicians and pulmonology/intensivists. The strain COVID-19 has placed on our health care system in every regard is unprecedented and I’d like to thank those in our community who are actively participating in precautions such as masks, vaccinations, and handwashing to help prevent further spread within our community. Every small action can tangibly save a life. We have been treating and seeing the ravages of this virus for more than 18 months now.

This month in particular has been a very difficult month in the San Luis Valley for COVID-19. In particular, the Delta variant has created a new surge that mimics November/December 2020. Fortunately, there have been great strides in treatment, but unfortunately, this virus is still extremely deadly. For those that don’t die there may also be a lifetime of complications and they may never return to their previous health.

My colleagues and I have seen far too many tragic deaths and lives lost in our community than people will ever realize. I just finished 10-day stretch working nights at SLV health and three patients passed, all unvaccinated. This rate of fatality is not new. Sadly, almost all of our deaths in the last two months have been unvaccinated patients. It is heart-wrenching to be caring for an actively dying patient who regrets not taking covid seriously by wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. Countless times they ask, and often beg, for the vaccine but it is too late. This leaves families filled with regret and remorse. For several very memorable patients, this has literally been their last words. We have seen husbands and wives die within days of each other.

One of my patients did do all the right things; vaccination, masking, you name it. Unfortunately, an elementary-age grandchild brought the virus home and unknowingly spread the virus to the patient and later tested positive for Covid-19. The patient started showing symptoms and came to the hospital when it became difficult to breathe but died 4 days after admission. This is why it is so important that we make our schools a part of the conversation. Although children may not seemingly be affected on the same level as adults, they are certainly vectors of transmission.

This particular surge has created a tremendous burden on all health care systems in Colorado. Often, at a regional medical care system such as SLV, cases that require a higher level of care need to be transferred out of the valley via helicopter or airplane for a higher level of care. Unfortunately, all hospitals in Colorado are at or near capacity. Because of this, it is very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to transfer these patients. This includes COVID patients and non-COVID patients. The burden of COVID has placed a strain on all patients requiring hospitalization.

Due to high community transmission, Public Health encourages everyone to take precautions including wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, staying home if you are sick, and getting vaccinated if you have not already done so.

Here are some of the latest SLV indicators:

• On September 29th, our region’s 7-day average reached 36 new cases per day, which exceeded our previous record of 34 cases per day set back on December 18, 2020.
• September 2021 had the highest number of COVID-19 hospital admissions in the SLV since the beginning of the pandemic.
• Last week, 33% of new COVID-19 cases in the SLV were ages 0-18.
• Five new fatalities have been reported since the beginning of last week.
• Positivity rate for this week: 9/26/21 - 24.3%. (Double from 8/22/21 – 12.3%)

Are vaccines helping? Yes. In September, there were 542 cases among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents, and 112 cases among fully vaccinated residents. The most recent data in Colorado shows that fully vaccinated people are 4.9 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are unvaccinated. There are now 22,185 San Luis Valley residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In closing, we implore the community as a whole to assist in helping stop the spread of this virus. Covid does not discriminate against race, ethnicity, gender, age, or economic status. We thank those who have been vaccinated, continue to mask when appropriate, and hand wash to prevent the spread of germs. We want to keep ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and our community safe and healthy. Please help us work together to keep the San Luis Valley strong and thriving.

Warm regards,

Justin Buchholz, D.O.
Hospitalist Medical Director, Internal Medicine
SLV Health Regional Medical Center and Conejos County Hospital