The Foothills Hospital in Boulder on Nov. 17, 2021. One year ago, Boulder County’s hospitals were treating more than 100 patients with Covid-19 at times. Today, hospitals are treating about 80 people. Credit: Anthony Albidrez

The latest surge of Covid-19 patients is straining Boulder County’s hospitals, again. 

On any given day, the county’s four major hospitals are treating at least 80 patients infected with the virus, the highest number since the wave last November, according to the most recently available data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Intensive care units are about 86% full, leaving just 10 beds available for those with sometimes life-threatening illnesses. 

But the situation is more complicated than the data suggests. 

Until this month, Covid-19 patients generally made up a minority of patients in the county’s ICUs. Many hospitals have been running at about full capacity to catch up on postponed surgeries and illnesses, some of which have been made worse by delayed treatment. 

“Everything else is in high demand,” Jackie Attlesey-Pries, the chief nursing officer at Boulder Community Health, told the Boulder Reporting Lab. 

“Patients are coming in sicker. Some of it may be delayed care. Some of it may be the cumulation of all of the health issues that are going on in the world these days,” Attlesey-Pries said. 

The current surge of patients infected with the coronavirus isn’t as severe as November 2020. One year ago, Boulder County’s hospitals were treating more than 100 patients with Covid-19 at times. 

Since then, about 70% of Boulder County's residents have received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. The Boulder County health department has ordered residents to wear masks at indoor public spaces. This has kept hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, Attlesey-Pries said. 

But she said staffing levels for nurses are lower than she wants. Some have retired, taken other jobs or left to spend more time with family, she said. 

“I don’t want anybody to be alarmed that we are running out of care providers,” Attlesey-Pries said. “[But] the burnout level is really high right now.”

Elsewhere in Boulder County, hospitals are adding ICU beds and scheduling fewer non-emergency medical procedures, officials said.

Even so, hospitals’ capacity to bend to the pandemic is limited. 

Since July 2020, people infected with Covid-19 have accounted for about 21% of the Boulder County hospitals’ ICU patients, according to HHS data. In early November, they accounted for 59% of ICU patients. 

And the surge isn’t over.

Boulder County Public Health is reporting 113 patients hospitalized with Covid-19. The county's numbers are based on a disease interview or medical record review, which is different than HHS, which bases its numbers on laboratory-confirmed cases.

And a November report by Colorado’s Covid-19 modeling team projected statewide hospitalizations could peak in late November under a scenario in which Covid-19 transmission remains about the same. Three days after the report was released, hospitalizations exceeded that scenario

John Herrick

I report on housing, climate, health and local government for the Boulder Reporting Lab. I previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. I’m interested in stories about people, power and fairness.