COVID-19: Loveland businesses seek relief as patient counts rise

LOVELAND — As more Loveland businesses have signed onto the effort to resist state and county health department rules that went into effect Tuesday night, efforts to emulate Mesa County’s Five Star Variance Protection Program were gathering steam.

Steve Johnson, a member of the Larimer County Board of Commissioners, and all members of the legislative delegation from Larimer County have called on the state to permit the county to adopt the Mesa County program.

As of Wednesday, 73 businesses were on the list of companies that committed to continue operating under the yellow COVID-19 health-safety rules instead of moving to the more restrictive red rules. Of those, 21 were bars, breweries or restaurants, a category that is heavily affected by the change in pandemic rules. It’s also the category of businesses that Tom Gonzalez, the county’s public health director, told commissioners accounts for the most positive cases of the virus.

The resistance effort, operating under the name Small Businesses for a Healthy Loveland, said in press releases that they want dialogue with the county to find a solution that permits more of its members to stay in business.

“This is a cry for help, for a dialogue, for solutions. Our leaders have had months to figure this out, and their solution is to put thousands of people out of work and close down businesses. The legislature might be coming back next week, but we need help now,” Morgen Harrington, chief financial officer at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, said in a written statement.

Meanwhile, health-care leaders representing the hospital systems operating in the county told the board of commissioners Tuesday that their patient loads are increasing rapidly — they doubled in a two-week period, the commissioners were told. There are currently 180 COVID patients in Larimer and Weld county hospitals, 50 of them in intensive-care beds.

The issue for hospitals will not be availability of beds but having enough qualified staff to treat COVID patients, the health systems said. 

“Everyone’s looking for nurses,” said Sara Quale, spokesperson for Banner Health in Northern Colorado. She said Banner has asked non-clinical staff to train for other duties — such as running supplies or helping sanitize rooms — in order to permit nurses and other health-care professionals to focus on treating patients.

State Sen. Rob Woodward (R-Loveland) sent a bipartisan letter Tuesday to the governor and Larimer County asking for solutions such as the Five Star Program in Mesa County. The group is scheduled to have a conversation with the Larimer County Health Department Wednesday.

Mesa County’s program permits businesses that adopt certain safety standards and agree to inspections to continue to operate under lower pandemic restrictions.

While the Mesa County program may have kept more businesses operating, it didn’t prevent hospitals from being overrun with patients.

Mesa County Public Health reported on Nov. 18 that it had no ICU beds available and other beds were reaching capacity. Surge protocols were underway, Mesa County said.

Two thousand new virus cases were reported in Mesa County in a two-week period. 

Like Larimer, Mesa County had an urgent need for staffing. “This is a call to arms,” said Richard Salgueiro, Veterans Administration  Western Colorado Health Care System executive director, in a statement on the county health department’s website. He asked all retired and displaced clinical personnel to step forward to help.