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Gov. Jared Polis on Friday announced new steps to protect residents of nursing homes and senior care centers from the new coronavirus, the group that has been hardest hit by the disease in Colorado.

Through Wednesday, as many as half of the state’s fatalities were residents of those facilities. Hundreds of residents and staff members have fallen ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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“We really need to step up our steps here for our long term care facilities,” Polis said. “We really need even better planning and better protections.”

Those new steps include:

  • A requirement that nursing homes and senior care centers create a detailed plan for how to isolate residents with coronavirus symptoms and confirmed infections and submit it to the state by May 1
  • The Colorado National Guard will be deployed to conduct testing at three of the largest nursing homes in the state
  • Other personnel and resourced will be deployed, as needed, to other facilities to help with testing
  • The addition of 200 isolation beds for sick seniors if space isn’t available at the facility where they are living. The first beds will be at St. Anthony’s North in Westminster.
  • Increased enforcement of state orders and guidance for the facilities

“We find that compliance is good in some places, spotty in others,” Polis said. “… The safety measures in place for our senior care facilities are strong, but we really need to up the bar on enforcement, on safety.”

The governor said the state has heard of facilities “short-circuiting” requirements that people have their temperature checked before entering. Others aren’t doing enough to limit visitation.

The measures announced Friday are on top of mandates issued by Polis early on during the coronavirus crisis in Colorado, include restricting visitors and requiring senior care centers to take steps to avoid residents’ exposure.

“I think the toll would be far worse had that not been in place,” Polis said. “But that’s not an excuse that we shouldn’t be doing more.”

The Colorado Sun on Monday pressed Polis on why he hadn’t sent the Colorado National Guard in to assist nursing homes after he announced that troops would be helping respond to an outbreak at the JBS meatpacking plant. At the time, Polis said the National Guard was better suited to respond to larger-scale outbreaks.

“If the Colorado National Guard can help, we’d be happy to,” he said Monday. “They support large logistical operations. Testing is much easier at nursing homes.”

Polis also on Friday ordered workers at critical businesses — like grocery stores — and with jobs in critical government functions to wear a medical or cloth mask when in proximity to other employees or the public.

Finally, Polis announced a new task force to study racial disparities among those who are infected with and killed by coronavirus.

Data released by the state earlier this week showed while Hispanics make up 21.7% of Colorado’s population, they make up 28.1% of infections. Black or African American people make up 3.9% of the population, but they account for 7% of all confirmed coronavirus cases and 6.8% of all deaths.

There were more than 9,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Colorado and nearly 400 deaths through Friday afternoon. More than 800 people with confirmed cases are hospitalized.

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Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The...