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Bock: Difficulty breathing and expanded COVID-19 symptoms

This article was first printed in the Vail Daily on March 30, 2020.

After seeing more than three hundred local COVID-19 patients on the front line, our teams at Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical are learning critical information regarding this deadly virus, and we firmly believe educating the public on these learnings is vital to our community’s survival. 

People continue to compare this virus to the flu, but that’s very misleading, and wrong. The course of this illness is different. First, we have no treatment for this disease and there is still no immunization. Your illness may be mild, but it could be fatal. For many, the first three to four days may be relatively uneventful, but then, for a small subset of patients, sometime between the fourth to the ninth day they find themselves struggling to breathe. This can progress very quickly to a need for supplemental oxygen and even the need for a ventilator.  

These are life-threatening moments in time. If you are at home, whether you have tested positive for COVID-19 or not, and you find that suddenly you’re having real trouble breathing, seek help immediately. Call 911 and go to the emergency department.

If your breathing is somewhat labored, go to one of our respiratory clinics listed below, or if it is after business hours, call 911 and go to the emergency department. The breathing problems are significant and not something that will go away quickly or without proper medical attention. Call on your way, if possible. 

The good news is that many of our locals are overcoming this illness and feeling healthy again. The statistics continue to show that about 80 percent of COVID-19 patients are going to have a mild to moderate course, 15% severe, and the remaining 5% will have a critical illness and require hospitalization. While data shows that COVID-19 is primarily impacting the older population or the auto-immune, we are seeing healthy individuals across many age ranges struggling with the illness.

The symptoms related to COVID-19 have expanded, so we are broadening our testing criteria. While early symptoms were primarily a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath, additional symptoms now include headache, body aches, earache, sore throat, loss of the sense of smell or taste, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Patients with these types of symptoms should reach out to a health care provider for screening and potential testing. 

We want to make sure all segments of our population have access to medical advice, screening and testing. We have partnered with the Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance, or MIRA, for free by-appointment, COVID-19 screening and testing in our Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Please visit MIRA’s Facebook page to see the full schedule. Appointments for testing are required by calling 970-777-2800.

Since January, leaders from Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical have been sitting side-by-side planning our COVID-19 strategy to ensure we can appropriately take care of our community. Our institutions have been in this valley for half a century, and our nurses, doctors and employees live and work here just like you. As local nonprofit organizations, our decades of local experience have allowed us to deploy bold proactive measures, like converting facilities into three respiratory clinics, creating Colorado’s first drive-through screening and testing facility in Gypsum, and partnering early with key partners like Eagle County Public Health, Eagle County Paramedic Services, Mountain Family Health, and Castle Peak Senior Life and Rehabilitation. Additionally, integrating mental health with physical health at CMM and through Vail Health’s $60 million commitment to create Eagle Valley Behavioral Health has proven a vital resource for community members during these uncertain times. 

It is a remarkable mountain health system that we have created, and I am proud to be a part of this team and this community. Please stay disciplined with social distancing as we all work together to get through this milestone battle of our lifetime. 

Brooks Bock, MD, FACEP, is the chief executive officer for Colorado Mountain Medical.