By Lisa Taylor, Estes Park Health
There will come a time again when a trip to the mountains will be a lovely part of your vacation or weekend trip, but that time is not now.
After the flood of 2013, the residents of Estes Valley took up the mantra “Mountain Strong” — and we are. We are a tight-knit community at the gateway of Rocky Mountain National Park. We are a population of around 6,600 year-round residents. We are educated and active, and we love our mountain community.
However, we are asking visitors to stay at home and not visit or relocate to Estes Valley during these tough times. The Estes Park community is at risk just like every community in the U.S. Our one hospital, Estes Park Health, needs its current healthcare resources to stay healthy so that we can, in turn, care for the Estes community. Like you, we want to protect our families, friends, and neighbors from COVID-19.
While we are a generally healthy group in Estes, the majority of our residents are considered to be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Almost 65% of us are over 65 years young. The CDC has put out some sobering statistics surrounding higher risk groups: 8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older.
The town of Estes breathed a sigh of relief when the mayor closed Rocky Mountain National Park. We were once again relieved when Governor Polis issued the statewide Stay-at-Home order. These actions brought hope that we would be able to take care of our community. It also meant that the many, many visitors who would typically visit us would stay safe in their own homes.
And yet, many visitors continued to come. Just this week, the Estes Park Health EMS responded to two calls from people visiting Estes – one group was from Denver and the other from Greeley.
Don’t get us wrong, we love our visitors; there were approximately 4.6 million of you in 2019. Our visitors fill our lodgings, shop in our stores, and eat at our restaurants. Your visits generate income for the local businesses, for our residents, and support the operations of the Town of Estes.
But we think Governor Polis nailed it when he said,
“This pandemic is not a vacation.”
He called out Colorado residents who were still driving to Colorado’s mountains or hiking on narrow mountain trails. “The more noncompliance there is, the more people that are not heeding the advice to stay at home, the longer and more severe this crisis will be.”
This speaks directly to the crisis Estes Park could face if people don’t heed the order to stay at home.
Our mountain community is lucky to have Estes Park Health (EPH) to support our healthcare needs from the start to end of life. However, our medical center is only a small 23-bed critical access hospital with about 350 employees. For many weeks now, EPH has been putting together a plan to address how we will care for our 6,600 full-time residents if a surge happens in our community. To stay ahead of the surge, our hospital is already restricting visitors, canceling non-urgent provider visits, canceling non-emergent surgeries, and reducing patient access to service lines that do not focus on urgent patient needs. Every day, EPH’s Clinical Operations team reviews our current capacity to respond to a surge. We are doing everything we can to meet health care needs of our community and staff members.
There will come a time again when a trip to the mountains will be a lovely part of your vacation or weekend trip, but that time is not now. Our request from the Estes Valley community is to please stay home and continue to practice social distancing in your community, not ours. Please help our community to remain Mountain Strong by making the right decision to stay strong and stay home.