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Testing for COVID-19 for veterans was set up outside at the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic on Thursday, April 2, 2020. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

One month after the first two coronavirus cases were reported in Colorado, the state now is approaching 5,000 people who have tested positive for the disease, according to numbers released Sunday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Colorado officials have confirmed 4,950 cases across 54 of the state's 64 counties, an increase of 385 from Saturday's 4,565, the agency said. The state's initial two cases were reported March 5, although Public Health and Environment data show the onset of Colorado's initial cases occurred Feb. 20.

As cases grow, so do the number of deaths.

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Coronavirus-related fatalities now total 140 in Colorado, an increase of 14 from 126 on Saturday, the health department said.

El Paso County has 435 cases, the fifth highest in the state. El Paso County leads the state in deaths with 25, one more than Weld County. 

Other figures in the latest Public Health and Environment report show:

• 924 people have been hospitalized in Colorado, an increase from 875 on Saturday.

• 25,773 people have been tested.

• 37 outbreaks have occurred in residential and nonhospital health care facilities. On Friday, state officials said that seven of those outbreaks have been at facilities in Colorado Springs.

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While Colorado's coronavirus cases approach 5,000, the actual number probably is much higher; state and public health officials have said thousands more Coloradans likely are infected with the disease. A lack of testing and the virus' lengthy incubation period results in state data trailing the actual number of cases.

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In other developments Sunday:

• Colorado Springs-based U.S. Northern Command said it's sending about 1,100 Air Force and Navy doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to the New York City area over the next three days to assist in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Donald Trump had said Saturday that military medical personnel would be sent to New York; the state, which has been hit the hardest in the U.S., had recorded more than 122,000 COVID-19 cases as of Sunday morning and nearly 4,200 deaths, according to national news media accounts.

"Approximately 300 of these uniformed medical providers will work from the Javits Center (in New York City) and the rest will deploy to other area locations to expand local medical capabilities in the war against COVID-19," Northern Command said in a news release.

A Northern Command spokesman added that medical personnel being deployed to New York will come from around the country, not from Colorado Springs. The vast majority of personnel will be sent to New York City. 

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• Gov. Jared Polis' Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee has updated "crisis standards of care guidelines" that spell out how the medical community should allocate ventilators, intensive care unit beds and other scare resources if the state reaches a point where the needs of coronavirus patients outstrip those resources.

The standards have been in place since 2018, but now have been updated to reflect the COVID-19 pandemic.

If resources become limited in "dire circumstances," the governor or a designated public health official may declare a public health emergency, during which the crisis standards of care could be activated.

"The state has been working hard to avoid having to use these standards," Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a news release "We're working with the hospitals to increase the number of ICU beds and ventilators to try and meet the anticipated demand. We need everyone’s help to slow the spread of the virus by following public health orders, to reduce the likelihood of putting these standards into practice."

A group of experts has worked to update the standards should they need to be activated in Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the news release.

A fact sheet that explains details about the crisis care standards included a somewhat ominous explanation of what would happen if the standards were activated.

"If the state of Colorado needs to activate the Crisis Standards of Care, the medical community is faced with the most undesirable task of rationing care," according to the fact sheet. "There will most likely be scarcity among intensive unit care beds and ventilators. It is possible that some patients who need these resources will not receive them because there are not enough.

"These are extremely hard choices to make," according to the fact sheet. "Health care organizations will make these decisions based on medical ethics and who can benefit most from intensive care treatments. Factors such as gender, race/ethnicity, ability to pay, or disability will not be considered."

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