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Eagle County COVID-19 death count increases as officials say behavioral health is deteriorating

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July 15, 2020, 8:20 am

Editor’s note: The Vail Daily is reporting that Eagle County, at the direction of the state, is returning to more restrictive guidelines for large gatherings due to an increase in COVID-19 cases locally. Good thing there are still reporters at public meetings because as of 5 p.m. Wednesday there has not been an official press release from the county.

The Eagle River Valley recorded its ninth COVID-19 death on Tuesday – a man in his 80s — and the first since early May.

Overall, there have been 102 new cases locally in the last 15 days and 48 new cases in just the last five days. This comes as cases and deaths nationally and globally are spiraling out of control.

The Eagle Valley portion of Eagle County, home to about 45,000 permanent residents, has recorded 790 cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus since March 6 when the pandemic first came to the valley and shut down ski areas and local businesses.

According to Aspen Journalism, there were 34 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the tri-county area (Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield) on Tuesday, including the death of a man in 60s in Garfield County.

The Eagle Valley has seen six suicide deaths so far in 2020 – five of them since the pandemic shutdown in April, according to health officials, who say Eagle County’s behavioral health is deteriorating due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Emergency room visits for mental health and substance abuse are skyrocketing as a percentage of population given that most seasonal workers have left town, officials say. For now, the local Vail Health hospital has more than enough capacity to deal with another COVID-19 surge, but they are concerned about behavioral health and suicide.

Anyone in immediate need of help should call The Hope Center at (970) 306-4673 or call the statewide hotline at (844) 893-8255. Online, go to the Eagle Valley Behavioral Health _ Find A Therapist directory or Olivia’s Fund – a scholarship for those who need therapy but can’t afford it.

In December of 2019, RealVail.com posted this story on the “Paradise Paradox” of a growing behavioral health crisis in Eagle County. Here’s a statistical excerpt from that story:

Eagle County set a record of 17 suicide deaths in 2018. That came after 16 in 2017 and was way up from 6 in 2016. In 2019, there were 11 suicide deaths, so down significantly as Eagle Valley Behavioral Health ramped up its efforts but still a large number.

For a county of around 55,000 people (10,000 of whom live in the Roaring Fork River Valley), that 2018 record is a rate of about 30 suicide deaths per 100,000 residents – higher than the state’s 10th-worst rate of 20.3 per 100,000 or the nation’s worst rate of 28.9 per 100,000 in Montana, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In Eagle County, which includes Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas, behavioral health issues have been spiraling out of control since the middle of the decade. Vail Health emergency room visits for anxiety and depression, fewer than 100 in both 2014 and 2015, spiked to nearly 350 in 2018 – a staggering 465% increase in four years.

Partying, a big part of life in Colorado ski towns, also looms as one of the problems. Vail’s ER visits for alcohol and intoxication issues, fewer than 100 in both 2014 and 2015, jumped to nearly 400 in 2018 – a 332% increase.

And there’s been a trickle down to school kids, with nearly 1 in 4 local 7th- and 8th-graders seriously considering suicide in 2017, and 16% actually making a suicide plan, according to statistics from Vail Health. Eagle County averaged nearly one suicide attempt per day (324) in 2018.

Again, anyone in immediate need of help should call The Hope Center at (970) 306-4673 or call the statewide hotline at (844) 893-8255. Online, go to the Eagle Valley Behavioral Health _ Find A Therapist directory or Olivia’s Fund – a scholarship for those who need therapy but can’t afford it.

Also go to SpeakUp ReachOut for more information locally.

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