Boulder County reported a record high number of coronavirus hospitalizations for the third day in a row Thursday, and as cases continue to surge, local health officials said the number of people hospitalized will likely follow suit.

There were 102 people hospitalized for coronavirus Thursday, according to Boulder County Public Health, and 216 new cases of confirmed or probable COVID-19.

“This is probably the grimmest time, as far as numbers go, that Boulder has experienced to date and it’s an all hands on deck moment for our community,” said Mayor Sam Weaver during a city of Boulder coronavirus briefing Thursday.

There were 13 intensive care beds available in Boulder County as of Thursday with 20% of hospitals reporting a shortage or expecting one in the next week. The county has 84 ICU beds total.

There were 78 medical or surgical beds available out of 512 total, and no shortage reported. Sixty percent of Boulder County hospitals reported having a staffing shortage or expecting to have one in the next week.

“What we’re hearing loud and clear from many of the hospitals is that it’s not the issue of beds, it’s the issue of personnel,” said Dr. Chris Urbina, Boulder County Public Health medical officer, during the Thursday briefing. Public Health Executive Director Jeff Zayach also said he’s heard that there are issues with hospitals having enough staff. 

But officials with many Boulder County hospitals declined to say their facilities were experiencing staffing shortages, instead referring to it as a busy time that required them to pull in staff from other areas of their hospitals to care for patients who have COVID-19.

Boulder County reported a record high number of coronavirus hospitalizations for the third day in a row Thursday, and as cases continue to surge, local health officials said the number of people hospitalized will likely follow suit. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

UCHealth hospitals across the state are currently caring for 360 coronavirus patients, according to spokesperson Kelly Tracer, which is an all-time high and up from 140 COVID-19 patients three weeks ago.

Longs Peak Hospital and UCHealth currently have the staff necessary to care for all patients, Tracer wrote in an email.

“If needed, we have plans in place to redeploy nursing staff from our outpatient clinics or other areas to care for hospitalized patients and we are exploring other options,” she wrote. “We greatly appreciate our dedicated nurses, providers, respiratory therapists and others who, at times, are picking up additional shifts or volunteering to work in other areas during this critical time.”

Jackie Attlesey-Pries, chief nursing officer for Boulder Community Health, said in previous years there have been similar strains on particularly busy weekends dealing with university students partying too much — but this time, the strain lasts for days on end.

“Everybody is busy and everybody is working really hard right now,” she said. “We have people working extra shifts and we’re pulling in other individuals we’ve trained into the patient side who can be helping hands to the (registered nurses).”

Employees are picking up shifts because their colleagues are sick or quarantined because they’ve been exposed to coronavirus, Attlesey-Pries said.

Before this month, the highest number of coronavirus patients at Boulder Community Health at one time was in the spring, when 10 patients were hospitalized. There have been 10 to 12 coronavirus patients in the hospital every day for the last several weeks, Attlesey-Pries said, and 17 people were hospitalized as of Thursday.

“We know that when we see rising cases, there is about a two-week delay in hospitalizations,” she said. “We believe we will continue to see more hospitalizations in the next two weeks.”

Hospital staff have gotten better at treating COVID-19 since the pandemic began, said Dr. Steve Cobb, chief medical officer for Centura Health’s Denver Metro region.

Centura operates Longmont United Hospital and Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville.

“There are a lot of things to be positive about, but it’s a math problem. If a bunch of people get sick at the same time, the math is that you can overwhelm any health care system,” he said.

Centura’s Boulder County hospitals have the capacity to care for their communities, Cobb said, though they are feeling the increased pressure of rising cases and hospitalizations.

“If you look at the rate of increased disease in the community, unless we do something differently we’re going to see increases that may really stretch our capacity to care for everyone who is sick,” Cobb said.

The best and easiest way to prevent that, Cobb said, is to maintain distance, wear masks and practice frequent handwashing.

“We demonstrated this spring that we can shut the spread of the virus down,” he said. “I hope that our community responds like it knows it can.”