Vaccinations in long-term care facilities lead to drop in COVID cases

    BRIEF

    Army Veteran Phil Ross, 73, right, celebrates after getting a COVID-19 vaccine administered by registered nurse Ola Arije, left, at Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora on Dec. 22, 2020. Residents and staff of the Fitzsimons veterans facility were among the first seniors in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post, pool)

    State public health officials have registered a decline in cases of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities since vaccinations began in those locations, officials said during a news briefing on Monday.

    Scott Bookman, the COVID-19 incident commander at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said 100% of clinics for first and second vaccine doses at long-term care facilities across the state have been completed. Cases at long-term care facilities began dropping in late January, and now the rate of new cases at those facilities is well below the rate of new cases among the general population, according to state data. The seven-day rolling average of new cases among all Coloradans on Monday was just over 1,000, but the seven-day average among residents of long-term care facilities has reached zero at several points over the last two weeks.”

    “This is the evidence that we have been hoping to see. This is the true light we have been waiting for. This is the impact that vaccines are having. It is starting to stem the tide of cases in these facilities dramatically,” Bookman said.

    Though vaccinations have been available at long-term care facilities, not every resident and staff member has accepted the vaccine. Bookman said 88% of residents and 66% of staff have been vaccinated.

    Scott Bookman, COVID-19 incident commander and director of the Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (cdphe.colorado.gov)

    The briefing included Bonnie Silva and Randy Kuykendall, co-chairs of the state’s COVID-19 Residential Care Strike Team, and Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist.

    The officials said that from the beginning of the pandemic Gov. Jared Polis and state public health officials have prioritized protections for residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, since those residents are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. Thirty-eight percent of the 5,900 COVID deaths in the state have occurred among residents of long-term care facilities. But the state has achieved an above-average performance in protecting this population compared to other states, the officials said. Twenty-eight percent of fully vaccinated Coloradans are long-term care residents.

    “Colorado’s actions have really saved more lives,” Herlihy said.

    Given the success of vaccines in the facilities, Bookman said residents and their families can expect greater visitation freedoms. Visitations have been restricted during the pandemic.

    “We will continue to evaluate more and more opportunities for visitation across our state,” Bookman said. “The light at the end of the tunnel gets bigger and bigger every single day.”

    The briefing included some cautions.

    State public health officials continue to monitor the spread of coronavirus variants, particularly the B.1.1.7 strain from the U.K. Herlihy said the state has seen a slight increase of variant cases but not a rapid one. She added, “Certainly variants are concerning and could be a setback.”

    Bookman said Coloradans should remain diligent in taking precautions.

    “It is absolutely critical in the coming months that we continue to wear masks,” he said.