Colorado orders nursing homes, care facilities to have isolation plans

Workers in all critical industries must wear masks when near others, per new executive order

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At the end of a week that revealed senior homes and other care facilities have seen more than 40% of Colorado's COVID-19 deaths, Gov. Jared Polis announced a new public health requirement that those locations must have plans to isolate residents if needed to prevent the disease's spread.

“We're also adding isolation beds at the state level. In May, we're expecting 200 beds,” Polis said at an April 17 news conference.

The beds will accommodate seniors if their own facilities can't provide beds for isolation, and if they don't need hospital care.

“Those very first beds are at St. Anthony North in Westminster,” Polis added.

Across 77 nursing homes, senior living locations and other care facilities in Colorado, at least 514 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, with another 114 listed as probable cases, according to data released April 15 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The facilities have seen 137 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, with another 30 deaths likely due to the disease. The confirmed COVID-19 deaths represent more than one third of Colorado's 391 coronavirus deaths as of April 17, and more deaths had likely not yet reached the state health department's records by that time.

Including the 30 probable COVID-19 deaths, the death toll in the facilities account for about 43% of Colorado's total.

When the data was released April 15, the fatalities listed stood closer to making up half of all COVID-19 deaths in the state.

The data also show 345 staff members at the facilities have tested positive for COVID-19, and another 165 staffers are listed as probable cases.

The numbers were released amid a buildup of media scrutiny in recent weeks.

Earlier and new actions

Colorado announced in mid-March it was restricting all visitors at these facilities. The March 12 public health order required them to:

• Offer virtual communication tools to allow residents to speak to people who would have visited them in person.

• Provide staff to assist residents with those tools.

• Document screening of symptoms for all people who enter the building.

• And, if the facility has a positive or suspected positive case of COVID-19, restrict group activities to prevent infection of other residents.

Proper screening includes a temperature check and asking questions about other symptoms, according to Polis.

“Some had been short-circuiting those needed temperature checks” and other screening measures, Polis said.

The action announced April 17 — an updated public health order — requires facilities to create a plan for those showing COVID-19 symptoms to make sure they're in a different place than other residents, and to protect staff. The plans must be submitted to the state health department by May 1.

Although the March action was already an order that carried legal penalties, Polis said on April 17 that the state would “take additional steps on enforcement and compliance” regarding nursing homes and other facilities.

The state also is deploying the Colorado National Guard to conduct COVID-19 testing at the three largest nursing homes in the state, according to a news release. The state will deploy more testing and human resources to other facilities as needed, the release said.

Critical workers must wear masks

Polis also announced a new executive order requiring workers in critical businesses — who leave home to work — to wear face coverings when in close proximity with others.

The order directs workers to wear gloves when in contact with customers or goods, if gloves are provided by employers.

That includes workers in the care facilities and a long list of other industries, such as grocery stores, banks, utilities, homeless shelters and many more.

Workers can wear a medical mask or a cloth face covering, including ones made at home. The order makes exception if a mask interferes with a worker's breathing.

“As of today, it is the law of Colorado,” said Polis, who on April 3 urged Coloradans to wear face coverings any time they go out of their residence for groceries or other essential reasons.

Cloth masks homemade from materials such as T-shirts aren't as effective as medical masks, but they likely offer some reduction of the spread of large respiratory droplets, a governor's office news release has said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that up to one in four people infected with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, a governor's office news release said. Face coverings help lower the risk of transmission by people who may not realize they are sick, according to the release.

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