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More than half of Colorado nursing homes now have COVID-19 outbreaks

More than half of Colorado’s nursing homes now have active outbreaks of COVID-19, and nearly 400 people in those facilities have died from the virus.

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As of Wednesday, 118 of Colorado’s 235 nursing homes had outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. An outbreak is at least two cases linked to the same location or event, and isn’t over until four weeks have passed with no new cases.

Those outbreaks are linked to 392 deaths, all but two of them nursing home residents. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has reported 3,166 COVID-19 cases in residents and 2,609 in nursing home staff among these outbreaks.

The state also has outbreaks in 140 assisted living facilities, four memory care units and nine facilities offering multiple levels of care for older people and those with disabilities. Those facilities have a combined 3,384 cases and 160 deaths.

This comes as nursing home residents and staff are included in the first phase of Colorado’s COVID-19 statewide vaccination program, which got underway this week with the arrival of the first doses from Pfizer.

Outbreaks in long-term care facilities drove much of the death toll from the state’s spring wave. Between March and May 27, 437 nursing home residents, 290 assisted-living residents and two people who worked at an Aurora nursing home died of the virus.

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The odds of dying from COVID-19 increase with age. Only 0.02% of Coloradans younger than 20 who had the coronavirus have died from it, while more than one in five people older than 80 who were infected have lost their lives. It’s not completely clear why the virus is so much more deadly for older people, but some research suggests changes in the immune system could be partly responsible.

Colorado set a new record for outbreaks for the 11th week in a row, with 1,312 active clusters. The largest increases were in long-term care facilities and retail outlets.

The number of active outbreaks decreased in schools, offices and restaurants. In mid-November, Colorado’s most-populous counties moved into Level Red on the state’s COVID-19 dial framework, where indoor dining was prohibited and offices were encouraged to have workers telecommute. Some of the state’s largest school districts also moved to online learning in recent weeks, decreasing opportunities for the virus to spread.

Some facilities don’t have the option of closing their doors, though. The number of outbreaks increased in correctional facilities, where 58 have reported clusters of infections.

The number of hospital units reporting outbreaks also grew, to 14. Some of the units care for people with suppressed immune systems, who would be at a high risk of complications. In most units, the only cases were in staff members — some of whom may also be at an elevated risk.

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