Colorado has extra COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing properties than in the course of the worst level this spring


As of Wednesday, 93 nursing homes in Colorado were reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, beating a dismal mid-May record.

Long-term care facility outbreaks caused the majority of Colorado deaths from the virus this spring. At the May 13 high water mark, a total of 90 nursing homes had active outbreaks, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The number of outbreaks in these environments declined over the summer as older ones burned out and the virus became more common in places like shops and restaurants. However, in the past three weeks, the number of outbreaks in nursing homes has more than doubled.

It is possible that some spring outbreaks now identified would have gone unnoticed as less seriously ill people were not always tested.

Currently active outbreaks are on average larger than they were in May, at 42.5 cases per facility. The outbreaks have caused an average of 2.5 deaths per facility, which is lower than in May, but the death toll could rise before it is considered ended.

Doug Farmer, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Care Association, said nursing homes have better access to testing and personal protective equipment than they did in the spring, but there is only so much they can do to keep the virus away. The staff live in the community, and even with screening and regular tests, some bring the virus before they know they are sick, he said.

"We really need everyone who follows these public health guidelines," like wearing masks and avoiding gatherings, he said.

In the past three weeks, outbreaks have increased in most of the state-covered facilities, including assisted living facilities, daycare, schools, correctional facilities, factories, offices, outpatient health facilities, and retail stores.

Outbreaks in restaurants increased for two weeks and then declined, possibly due to recent indoor dining bans along most of the Front Range.

Even places that have previously been badly affected are not spared in the autumn wave. JBS's Greeley Meat Packing facility has 32 new cases this month, and 46 cases have been linked to JBS's Weld County corporate offices as of October.

The facility had 295 confirmed and probable cases and six deaths between April and October. Five people at corporate headquarters were infected and one died in an outbreak in May.

Cargill's Morgan County meat packing facility also reported a second outbreak in November. Others were hit for the second time last month, including 33 nursing homes, 24 assisted living facilities, eight schools, two homeless shelters, the Crowley County Correctional Facility, a grocery store and the Colorado Springs Police Department.

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