Physicians Worry Colorado Isn’t Ready To Ease Coronavirus Restrictions

Coronavirus Masks Gloves Donated At CU Anschutz
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
After a donation drive, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers starts to pile up in a warehouse at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus on Friday, March 27, 2020.

Colorado’s largest organization of physicians joined other groups Saturday in expressing concerns about whether doctors and the public are prepared for state coronavirus restrictions to loosen. 

Elective surgeries and medical and dental offices can reopen on Monday. But Colorado’s medical community is concerned that there may be an expectation for the healthcare field to return to normal right away. 

“If your resources, the testing, the equipment you need isn’t fully available because of supply chain abnormalities, while you wish to return to normal, you have to have time to retain those things that you need,” said Dr. David Markenson, president of the Colorado Medical Society. “What we’re concerned about is any requirement or expectation from the public that we can without the necessary resources.”

Patients should be aware that just because elective procedures are allowed, not all medical offices are prepared to perform those procedures with adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE, like masks, gloves and gowns. Markenson said PPE availability varies from community to community across the state. 

In a letter signed by the Colorado Medical Society and other medical groups, they expressed concerns about health care workers and the impact the safer-at-home phase could have on the state. They said the progress the state has made while in its stay-at-home order is at-risk if the state doesn’t take further precautions.

“We recognize that the response to date has tested patients, physicians and other health care providers, policymakers and communities in physical, mental, emotional and economic ways that seem unimaginable just months ago,” the letter reads. 

“It is critical that testing — including efficient and available access to this testing by physicians, contact tracing and other surveillance activities — is expanded or all of this work is threatened.”

The governor’s office did not respond to messages seeking comment Saturday.

Seven hospitals anticipate shortages of PPE and four anticipate staff shortages within the week, according to state data

Independent physicians don’t have adequate personal protective equipment to perform elective surgeries because the supply chain has been disrupted, according to the letter. Medical professionals need more liability coverage now that some doctors are treating patients who have health conditions that fall outside their specialty. The letter says the state also needs to continue prioritizing telehealth and telemedicine during the safer-at-home phase. 

Medical professionals laid out a handful of recommendations in the letter that would better protect health care workers. 

It asks the state to prioritize providing PPE at private practices and extend liability coverage. They also ask for the state to extend existing exemptions to telemedicine through the pandemic, plus expand those programs for Medicaid and other commercial health plans.

“Both in colorado and across the nation, all physicians would love to see more testing because as we return to normal, the access to more testing will help us manage things much better,” he said. “The availability is really related to the pace at which we can really return to normal.”  

Polis has said additional tests are on the way to Colorado, but has not revealed a plan to greatly expand testing.