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Governor exploring how to better protect Colorado nursing homes from coronavirus as resident deaths near 100

Gov. Jared Polis didn’t provide much in terms of specific steps, but he said the situation could have been much worse had he not acted sooner

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at the Colorado Convention Center on Friday, April 10, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Gov. Jared Polis said Monday he is exploring taking additional action to better protect Colorado nursing homes and senior care centers from the new coronavirus as the number of residents of those facilities who have died from the disease nears 100. 

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But he didn’t provide many specifics on what those steps may be. Polis highlighted expanded testing as one possibility, but when asked about how long it would take for that to be implemented he suggested it would come when broader screening is available throughout Colorado in the coming weeks.

“We’re continuing to work with stakeholders to up the bar on that,” Polis told reporters. “The need is great. The virus has a much worse trajectory among Coloradans that are in their 70s and 80s.”

He added: “We want to do everything we can.”

In the absence of the state releasing a comprehensive list, The Colorado Sun has been gathering data on infections and deaths among nursing home and senior care facility residents. Through midday Monday, The Sun had counted at least 96 deaths among that cohort, up from 64 on Wednesday.

That represents about a third of Colorado’s more than 300 coronavirus-related deaths. Polis suggested the number could be even higher, accounting for nearly half of all fatalities. 

Polis said he has spoken with other governors about ways to better protect nursing homes and senior care centers from outbreaks. But, he admitted, they pose a real challenge. 

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“There’s no question that as we have community spread of the virus, nursing homes are still part of our community,” he said. “There’s no way that they could be completely cut off from every other part of the community.” 

Polis said his administration also is committed to ensuring the facilities are following through with guidance that they limit visitors and check the temperatures of staff before they enter. In many cases, workers have tested positive at centers where there have been outbreaks. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is investigating outbreaks at nearly 70 such facilities.

The state plans to begin releasing more information Wednesday about deaths and infections at nursing homes and senior care centers around Colorado, after weeks of questions from The Sun and other media outlets.

It’s not clear when the state began to collect data about deaths at nursing homes or notice the alarming concentration at the facilities. Polis didn’t answer a question Monday about when he first saw data or learned about the issue.

Several facilities have had particularly deadly outbreaks. 

Centennial Healthcare Center in Greeley has seen at least 17 residents die from the virus. Five more residents died recently were “either not tested postmortem or are awaiting postmortem results,” spokeswoman Lauren DiGeronimo said.

The Centennial Healthcare Center in Greeley, where at least 17 residents’ deaths have been tied to the new coronavirus. (Joe St. George, Fox31)

The Cherry Creek Nursing Center in Aurora has reported at least 11 resident deaths related to the coronavirus, 9News first reported.

“Obviously this is a tragic time for our country and the world,” Joe Gimenez, a spokesman for the Cherry Creek Nursing Center, said in an email to The Sun. “We wish to express our most heartfelt condolences to all those who have lost loved ones.” 

And Juniper Village at Aurora, where roughly 75% of residents have tested positive for the disease, has had at least five deaths linked to the virus, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Three others are under investigation for their potential connection to the disease. 

Additionally, 16 of 25 staff members at Juniper Village at Aurora have coronavirus.

Also on Monday, Boulder County health officials said there have been seven deaths among senior care center residents reported, but declined to disclose where those people lived.

Polis has said the deaths aren’t surprising given coronavirus’ lethality among older people with preexisting health conditions. But he said his quick actions prevented even more fatalities.

“These were some of the first steps that we took, if you recall, well before the masks or the stay at home or any of that.” he said. “… The steps that we took very early on have had a very positive impact in preventing more nursing homes from having this contagion spread.” 

Those actions included barring visitors from the facilities except for those deemed essential and mandating that visitors touch limited surfaces, use appropriate protective gear and limit physical contact with residents. Polis painted a grim picture for what would have happened if he had not taken those precautions.

“We just passed 300 deaths in Colorado,” he said. “If we had failed to act early with regard to nursing homes and senior care facilities, that number could be in the thousands.”

Staff writers John Frank and Jen Brown contributed to this report.


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