Colorado reported only one new outbreak in a long-term care facility in the last week of June, as the state’s COVID-19 epidemic continues to shift.
Nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes initially were hit hard by the novel coronavirus’ arrival in the state. Outbreaks in facilities where older people and those with severe medical needs live close together contributed to a high death toll in March and April.
Over the last two months, however, Colorado’s coronavirus outbreaks have shifted to locations that don’t concentrate vulnerable people together, like offices, retail stores and restaurants.
This week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported the smallest increase in deaths related to outbreaks since it began reporting them in April. Six people had died of COVID-19 from known outbreaks since June 24, bringing the total to 956. The previous week also had set a record low, with 26 new deaths.
The state also reported 321 new cases linked to outbreaks in the past week, and 22 facilities that had been newly hit. An additional 32 facilities’ outbreaks were declared resolved, meaning the state health department doesn’t believe the virus is still spreading there.
Currently, Colorado is experiencing a two-week increase in new COVID-19 infections, which, while not nearly as severe as what states like Texas, Florida and Arizona are seeing, led Gov. Jared Polis this week to order bars and nightclubs to once again close.
Colorado’s public health department declares an outbreak when there are two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases in a facility within a 14-day period. Locations with outbreaks are not required by the state to close to the public. Instead, state and local health authorities work with them to help control the outbreaks.
Retail outlets that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks include six King Soopers stores, a number of fast food outlets including McDonalds and Chick-Fil-A restaurants, and big box stores like Walmart, Costco and Home Depot. (For more details and locations, see The Denver Post’s searchable version of the state outbreak list.)
In April, the state reported 111 outbreaks at long-term care facilities, which accounted for more than 80% of all outbreaks. In May, those facilities accounted for less than one-third of new outbreaks, and in June they dropped to about 11%.
Some of the reason that long-term care facilities accounted for such a large percentage of early outbreaks is that they were the first the state documented, state health department spokesman Ian Dickson said. They started with residential facilities in late March and began tracking other sites on April 10, he said.
“We do think that earlier in the pandemic, residential health care settings were ‘canaries in the coal mine’ because they have more people at higher risk living closer together,” he said. “As disease transmission increased, we began to detect more non-residential outbreaks.”
The situation has improved for long-term care facilities as access to protective equipment has improved, Dickson said. He also credited policies like requiring emergency plans, paying more for residents covered by Medicaid, restricting visitation to long-term care facilities in mid-March and testing all nursing home employees starting in late May.
Outbreaks related to retail stores, food processing plants and other manufacturing hit their highest levels in May, before receding somewhat in June. The number of outbreaks in restaurants, offices and construction sites increased each month this spring, perhaps reflecting workplaces reopening as the state loosened restrictions.
The rise in those numbers may reflect a combination of increased testing and that essential businesses continued to operate during the stay-at-home order, Dickson said.
Long-term care facilities have been the site of all of Colorado’s deadliest outbreaks, though the virus has still caused considerable pain in other workplaces.
The largest outbreaks still deemed active are:
- Sterling Correctional Facility: 603 cases, three deaths
- Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, Denver: 396 cases, zero deaths
- JBS meatpacking plant, Greeley: 282 cases, six deaths
- Pikes Peak Center, Colorado Springs: 155 cases, 26 deaths
- Cherry Creek Nursing Center, Aurora: 149 cases, 34 deaths
Cherry Creek Nursing Center and Pikes Peak Center also were among the facilities with the most deaths from their outbreaks. Others with at least 20 deaths were:
- Mountain Vista Health Center, Wheat Ridge: 133 cases, 32 deaths
- Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons, Aurora: 98 cases, 25 deaths
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