Tribute For Coronavirus is killing fewer Colorado nursing home residents, but officials warn the state hasn’t “turned a corner”


The number of new deaths and cases of the coronavirus at Colorado nursing homes and senior care centers continues to slow, but public health officials cautioned on Wednesday that the state has not yet “turned a corner.” 

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New deaths of nursing home and senior care center residents with coronavirus totaled 42 over the past week, according to data released Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The weekly deaths were as high as 100 in April and May but have been declining in recent weeks. 

Still, the impact of the virus at nursing homes across the state has been severe: More than 160 senior facilities are listed on the state’s outbreak list, 838 residents have died, and more than 3,000 residents have either tested positive or have probable infections. 

Among nursing home and senior care center workers, there have been about 2,400 confirmed and probable cases of the virus and four deaths. 

The active outbreaks include 19 confirmed and probable coronavirus deaths and 66 confirmed and probable cases among residents of the Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimmons in Aurora. As many as 30 staff at the facility also have contracted the disease.

MORE: See a list of coronavirus deaths and infections at Colorado nursing homes and senior care centers

“It’s very important to remind all of us that this is not over, even though the curve has been flattened,” Randy Kuykendall, director of health facilities for the state health department, said during a remote news briefing. 

“We are seeing a decrease in the deaths and the number of cases is slowing. I think it’s all part and parcel of flattening the curve. I don’t think we’ve turned a corner. We’re in for, I think, a long battle with this disease until such a time as vaccinations come along.”

After weeks of improvement, the department is working on a “phase 2” plan that would relax the strict no-visitor policy for nursing homes and senior care centers put in place by Gov. Jared Polis in March. Details are expected to come soon from the governor’s office, said Kuykendall, whose division oversees inspections of the state’s 232 nursing homes and thousands of other facilities.  

Nursing home residents have been using iPads to visit virtually with their family and friends, but the three-month no-visitor policy is taking a toll on their mental health, Kuykendall said.

The Eben Ezer Lutheran Care Center in Morgan County, where there have been 18 confirmed coronavirus deaths and there are four other fatalities that is considered linked to the disease. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“Change is coming and is nearby,” he said. “We are extremely aware of the negative side of the restrictions that are in place right now.” 

The next phase for nursing homes could include requiring family members to have a negative test result for COVID-19 before coming to see their loved ones, he said. State health officials who sit on a task force working on containing the spread of the virus in nursing homes and other facilities are writing a proposal to present to the governor’s office, he said. 

All nursing homes in the state have received at least one infection control inspection during the outbreak, Kuykendall said. Public health officials are optimistic, but guarded, about next steps, he said.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “The disease is still active in the facilities.”

The state is still working to make sure nursing homes have enough masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns. Smaller facilities across the state have struggled to find enough personal protective equipment because they don’t have the purchasing power of the larger companies, public health officials said. 

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Underwriting

Other outbreaks

The state health department is tracking outbreaks — defined as two cases within 14 days — not only at senior care centers, but also at jails and prisons, restaurants, retail stores and food-manufacturing plants. 

The businesses on the list this week include: 

  • JBS meat-packing plant, Greeley, 278 cases and six deaths
  • Cargill Meat Solutions, Morgan County, 96 cases and four deaths
  • Custom Made Meats, Adams County, 27 cases
  • Mountain King Potatoes, Rio Grande County, 25 cases
  • McKesson Medical Supply, Denver, 20 cases
  • Colorado Mushroom Farm, Alamosa, 18 cases
  • Food King, Weld County, 14 cases
  • Carniceria Leonela, El Paso County, nine cases
  • Epicurean Butter, Adams County, nine cases
Mourners attend the funeral of Saul Sanchez, a longtime JBS beef plant employee who died from the coronavirus, at Sunset Memorial Cemetery in Greeley on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (Bethany Baker, The Coloradoan)

There also have been outbreaks of the virus at five King Soopers locations, including two in Denver, two in Jefferson County, and one in Adams County. Dozens of workers have been infected and two have died.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, also continues to be a problem in jails and prison.

More than 550 inmates at the Sterling Correctional Facility in northeast Colorado have tested positive for the virus. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says three of them have died. 

In addition, 35 staff members at the prison have either tested positive for the disease or are considered to have probable infections.

The Sterling Correctional Facility outbreak is the largest in the state.

An aerial image of Sterling Correctional Facility in northeast Colorado. (Google Images screenshot)

At the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Aurora, 13 detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus. The facility is run by GEO, a private corrections company. 

The U.S. government announced Wednesday that all inmates at the detention center will be tested for the disease. Results are expected in about a week.

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