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For the first time in a long time, Denver ERs don't feel overwhelmed by COVID

We take a look at what's changed inside local hospitals since COVID vaccine access opened to everyone.

DENVER — Dr. Comilla Sasson couldn't recall the last time this happened. She came home from two shifts working in an urgent care in the Denver metro area this week without any new confirmed COVID cases.

"Oh my gosh its different," she said. "This is the moment we've been waiting for."

Sasson, a Denver-based ER doctor who has traveled the country treating COVID patients, said it was such a relief and exciting feeling to be able to diagnose patients with something as simple as a cold instead of the virus.

She's been watching carefully as restrictions and mask guidance changed and is cautiously optimistic.

"We know it's usually delayed by two to four weeks that's usually when things start to pick up again. In a lot of ways, it's nice to say, ok, it's working. The things are trying to do are working," said Sasson.

While she added she will be watching closely to see what happens with the case counts and variants, some Colorado hospitals said they are reaching a turning point in the pandemic when it comes to the number of new COVID patients in emergency departments.

Here's a look around the state:

Swedish Medical Center

Dr. Dylan Luyten, the medical director for emergency services for Swedish Medical Center, said that relief is shared among their facility, too. Luyten said most COVID patients come through their emergency department and those numbers have been dropping off, as well.

According to the latest patient census, the number of people admitted to the hospital with COVID at Swedish is 10% of what it was at the peak of the surge at the end of last year.

"We haven't seen this low of a number since late summer last year," said Luyten.

However, the hospital is still very busy.

"Our hospitals are bursting at the seam," said Luyten. "It's not COVID, it's a return to normal life, car accidents, strokes, heart attacks, stabbings."

"There is no doubt this is a turning point," he said. "We will continue to see COVID for some time, I'm confidant, if not forever. A big change, I'm sure is driven by vaccinations."

Denver Health

Dr. Ivor Douglas heads the intensive care unit (ICU) at Denver Health.

There are still people very sick with COVID there, he said. The unit is just as busy compared to the peak fall surge but for different reasons.

"The number of COVID-related serious illness declined," said Douglas. "There is a major public health crisis with regards to substance abuse, medical lack of access, chronic illnesses that deteriorated during the pandemic."

Douglas said out of the 10 ICU patients with COVID, nine are unvaccinated and one person is partially vaccinated and fell sick between doses. He also said the average age of people being admitted is much younger than before vaccines.

He said while the state has a better handle on the public health side of the pandemic, when it comes to hospital beds, capacity and vaccines, the devastation at a personal level for Coloradans who are still falling sick and dying, and the loss of loved ones hasn't gone away.

Sasson, Luyten and Douglas said they believe the change in the level of COVID patients is connected to vaccinations.

Lincoln Community Hospital

In Hugo, Colo., the hospital has also seen a decline in COVID cases.

They've gone from seeing up to 15 patients a day with potential COVID symptoms to less than five a week.

The chief executive officer also said they have over 50% vaccinated in Lincoln County.

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