Nearly half of Colorado’s coronavirus deaths tied to residential health care facilities, state data shows
Nearly half of Colorado’s deaths from COVID-19 are tied to residential health care facilities, according to newly released state data, and some residents and families are nervous that their nursing homes’ precautions aren’t enough to stop the virus’ continued spread.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Wednesday reported as many as 176 residents of residential care facilities are believed to have died from the new coronavirus, including 137 lab-confirmed cases and 39 where residents showed symptoms of the new virus but died before being tested.
Those combined cases account for 49% of Colorado’s 357 deaths attributed to COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
Though residents of nursing homes and other facilities accounted for a huge percentage of deaths, they only made up a small fraction of total cases. The state reported 632 confirmed or probable coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities — less than 8% of the 8,280 confirmed cases statewide.
On Wednesday, the state reported outbreaks in 79 health care facilities, a steep increase from the end of March, when fewer than 10 were believed to have at least one COVID-19 patient. The state of Colorado defines an outbreak as at least one confirmed case in a facility, if other people also are showing symptoms.
Four Colorado facilities — all in Greeley and Aurora — have reported COVID-19 deaths in the double digits:
- Centennial Healthcare Center in Greeley, with 18 deaths and 38 cases
- Cherry Creek Nursing Center in Aurora, with 14 deaths and 51 cases
- Juniper Village in Aurora, with 10 deaths and 36 cases
- Fairacres Manor in Greeley, with 10 deaths and 26 cases
Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday said that better protecting people living in nursing homes, as well as others at risk because of health conditions or advanced age, is a vital step before the state’s economy can begin to reopen.
Colorado will release data about coronavirus outbreaks at residential health care sites, correctional facilities and factories every Wednesday. “We’re trying to cast a broad net in providing greater transparency in reporting data,” Polis said.
Nationwide, at least 3,800 people in 2,500 long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19, according to The New York Times. The numbers almost certainly underestimate the true toll, since some states haven’t reported how many deaths happened in health-care settings.
The virus is most deadly for older people and those with chronic conditions, who make up most of the population of long-term care facilities. Nursing home residents also tend to be highly dependent on staff for help with bathing, dressing and other daily activities that have to be done up close, increasing the chances for germs to spread.
“What am I supposed to do?”
Brenda Dikes is quarantined at Mesa Vista of Boulder, a senior living facility, with her roommate, who has been coughing for more than a week.
She initially attributed the cough to her roommate’s smoking habit, but the situation took a worrisome turn over Easter weekend when her roommate began running a fever. At that point staff began telling residents to wear homemade masks and removed furniture from common areas to reduce the odds of people gathering, she said.
Mesa Vista isn’t included on the current list of facilities with outbreaks released by the state, though Boulder County Public Health received a report that two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 on April 6. Two residents also have tested positive since then, according to the county health department.
Administrators for the nursing home referred questions to Vivage Senior Living, which owns Mesa Vista and other long-term care facilities in Colorado. Representatives for Vivage didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Denver Post.
Dikes, who has chronic health conditions that could place her at a higher risk for complications, said she doesn’t feel safe quarantined with her roommate, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. She hopes they can move to separate rooms, but so far has heard that they’ll have to stay together until her roommate recovers.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommend that facilities separate residents confirmed to have COVID-19, those who they have no reason to believe are infected and those who were exposed but haven’t yet shown symptoms.
“You have a lot of questions in your mind: What am I supposed to do, and what will I have to do?” Dikes said.
Staff poses risk, is at risk
The state previously had estimated that, as of April 5, residents of long-term care facilities accounted for about two out of every five deaths from COVID-19 in Colorado. That’s in spite of efforts to keep the virus out by restricting non-essential visitors and to segregate infected and unexposed residents, including moving residents who tested negative from a facility with an outbreak to one that hasn’t had any cases.
At least one company, Assured Assisted Living, is requiring new residents to test negative and agree to daily monitoring for symptoms to keep the virus out of its multiple facilities in the Denver suburbs.
What might seem like relatively small mistakes in infection control in a nursing facility can cause major problems.
A January inspection of Mesa Vista found 16 residents had flu-like symptoms, and eight had confirmed cases of influenza, according to state records. More than half of the confirmed cases were in rooms cleaned by the same housekeeper, who made mistakes like forgetting to change her gloves or wipe down door knobs — though that doesn’t prove she spread the flu virus between those rooms.
Another complicating factor is that some people can transmit the virus before developing symptoms, making it difficult to be certain that staff aren’t bringing the virus with them to work.
Dikes said she appreciates the staff who have kept coming to work. It’s taking longer to get help since so many staff have called out sick, but most of those who come in are doing everything they can, she said.
“I’m so thankful to them for coming in to help me, because they could get sick,” she said.
Join our Facebook group for the latest updates on coronavirus in Colorado.