CHEYENNE – As the coronavirus has continued to spread in Wyoming at record levels over the past week, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center was reporting an all-time high of COVID-19 hospitalizations Wednesday, while a local nursing home has seen the largest outbreak of any long-term care facility in the state.
At CRMC, the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 was at 24 as of Wednesday – up from 16 last week, according to data from the Wyoming Department of Health. Before October, CRMC had never reported a day with more than six COVID-19 hospitalizations.
As of Wednesday, the hospital, one of Wyoming’s largest, had not reached full capacity in its intensive care units, with seven COVID-19 patients in ICU and six of them on ventilators.
CRMC officials have contingency plans in place if bed capacity reaches 90%. The hospital isn’t at that level yet, but it’s “close,” CRMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jeff Chapman said Wednesday.
If the need arises, the hospital has the ability to essentially create more ICU space by converting part of its telemetry unit, normally used for cardiac issues, for patients who need intensive care. Chapman said the hospital plans to try the telemetry unit with one or two non-COVID patients who need critical care to ensure the conversion goes smoothly.
“We are doing that not because we have no ICU beds, but just we’re getting close enough that we feel like we’ve got to be sure that we’ve got this locked in process-wise before we head into the weekend,” Chapman said.
With the number of active cases across Wyoming rising to new highs almost every day this month, Chapman added “we are not at the peak of our demand at this point in time,” noting the lag that often exists between rising active case numbers and new hospitalizations.
“One of the things that is felt to be fairly well-known is that some people (with COVID-19) can be doing well for five or six days, and at about that seven- or 10-day mark, they either get better, or they take a turn for the worse,” Chapman said. “So with the case counts from a week ago, it may take five to seven days for those people to be ill enough to seek care at the hospital.”
With regards to visitation, CRMC’s current policy allows one designated visitora for each hospitalized patient, with few exceptions. While Wyoming Medical Center in Casper announced Wednesday that it would no longer be allowing nearly all visitations at its facility, Chapman said the local hospital plans to stick with its existing policy, though he added nothing is off the table.
“Having family being able to visit is certainly a significant thing, and, actually, there’s some data that supports that having family members visit leads to better outcomes,” Chapman said. “At the same time, we also recognize that the more people that come in and out of the hospital, the more potential there is for one of them inadvertently spreading COVID to our employees or to the person they’re visiting.”
Keeping the hospital’s employees healthy remains “our biggest vulnerability,” Chapman said, though staffing levels at CRMC have yet to be impacted.
CRMC officials also plan to take the case numbers at local nursing homes into consideration, Chapman said. As of Wednesday, two Laramie County facilities were dealing with active cases of COVID-19, one being the largest outbreak reported at any Wyoming long-term care facility since the pandemic began.
The outbreak at the Life Care Center of Cheyenne continued over the past week, with 41 active COVID-19 cases reported among facility residents as of Tuesday afternoon.
In total, 52 residents have contracted COVID-19 at the facility since it reported its first case Oct. 11. Of the 41 active cases, eight of those residents have been hospitalized.
Additionally, three residents have died from complications caused by COVID-19, according to an announcement on the facility’s website. Only one of those deaths has been confirmed so far by the Wyoming Department of Health, which waits until it receives a certified death certificate before confirming a death caused by COVID-19.
Life Care has also seen 21 of its staff members test positive for COVID-19, all of whom are recovering at home. The facility had not responded to multiple requests for comment by press time Wednesday.
Across the state, 16 long-term care facilities had active cases this week. Only one other facility in Laramie County, Cheyenne Healthcare Center, is dealing with an ongoing outbreak, with two positive cases among its residents.
The situation at Granite Rehabilitation and Wellness, which previously had four active cases among residents and three among staff, has been resolved, according to a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health.
While CRMC’s levels of beds, staffing and supplies remain in decent condition, the developing situations in the community reflect how, as Chapman put it, “things can change dramatically.”
“Like everybody, we’re anxious, because we don’t know what the next few weeks or months will contain,” Chapman said. “But we’re also optimistic that we’ve got a great staff who will step up and do everything we can to help the community.”