El Paso County has reported fewer confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in recent days, but continues to have one of the highest death tolls in Colorado.

The county’s “busiest front” in the coronavirus fight is in long-term care facilities that have had outbreaks and are likely to see the “overwhelming majority” of the county’s deaths going forward, said Dr. Leon Kelly, public health deputy medical director.

El Paso County had 28 coronavirus deaths as of Tuesday — the second highest in the state behind Denver. It also had 463 confirmed cases and 131 hospitalizations as of Monday, county data show.

Statewide, 5,429 positive coronavirus cases were reported by the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment as of Tuesday. More than 1,070 people had been hospitalized and 179 people had died, according to the data.

Elected state and health officials have cautioned that the state’s data lags behind at least a day because of a shortage in testing and the virus’ lengthy incubation period. It’s likely that thousands more Coloradans are infected with the disease than the data shows, Gov. Jared Polis has said at several news conferences.

“Collectively, as a community, we have still got a big battle on our hands,” Kelly said.

El Paso County identified coronavirus outbreaks in eight long-term care facilities as of Sunday, county public health department spokeswoman Michelle Hewitt said.

Denver confirmed 13 outbreaks in care facilities as of Tuesday, said Eric Escudero, of the Denver Joint Information Center.

The three El Paso County facilities with the largest outbreaks have each had 10 or more residents test positive and several deaths, Hewitt said.

Laurel Manor Care Center has had six deaths, MorningStar at Mountain Shadows has had four deaths, and Winslow Court Assisted and Senior Living, has had two residents die, Hewitt said.

In long-term care facilities that have more than 10 cases of coronavirus, it’s likely many people were exposed and the outbreaks will be tough to contain among the residents, said Dr. Jeff Wallace, a geriatrician at the CU Anschutz Multidisciplinary Center on Aging in Aurora.

“You are just keeping score now to see who is going to be impacted,” he said in an interview.

In long-term care facilities with fewer than five cases, the staff can isolate patients well and likely control the outbreaks, Wallace said.

“The facilities are getting really quite good right now at monitoring, isolating,” he said.

Nursing homes across Colorado have also taken preventative steps such as not allowing nonessential visitors into buildings. Nursing homes are likely to have sporadic cases, Wallace said, but he expects to see fewer large clusters.

El Paso County Public Health officials were working with 22 care facilities that have reported residents with respiratory symptoms, complaints or exposure concerns, Hewitt said.

Outbreaks in long-term care facilities are concerning because many of the residents are likely to have underlying health conditions that make them susceptible to the disease. Kelly said many long-term care facilities are treating patients in-house rather than moving them to hospitals.

County coronavirus data shows some positive signs. Daily hospitalizations have dropped to 3 on Sunday from 12 on March 31, the data shows.

The number of daily positive cases has also dropped, to 12 as of Monday from 33 on April 2, Kelly said.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers also pointed to some positive signs from data analysis.

Officials with the El Paso County Department of Public Health who are “analyzing a constant stream of data,” recently performed predictive modeling that shows a “dramatic reduction” in the number of cases that will result from abiding by the stay-at-home order, the mayor said during a Tuesday news conference.

“We’re pleased that the number of hospitalizations and positive tests has declined in the last several days,” Suthers said.

“We hope that trend continues.”

The mayor urged residents to take Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home and social distancing order seriously, and to adhere to the state’s recommendation of wearing a face mask when leaving the home.

“Failure to comply will only extend this difficulty and will increase the negative impacts on our community’s physical, mental and financial well being ...” he said. “I’m confident the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County will rise to the occasion.”

Most of the new cases have been identified among hospital workers and long-term care residents, Kelly said.

A federally sponsored testing site operated by UCHealth has been focused on testing first responders and health care workers since last week. It expanded to elderly patients on Sunday.

The county is preparing for a surge of patients by working with Optum to set up alternative care facilities in vacant outpatient surgery centers, Kelly said.

The centers could help care for patients who do not need to be hospitalized, but cannot go home, he said.

County officials are hoping to have space for 350 additional beds outside of the hospitals, Kelly said.

“We are all moving collectively in the right direction,” he said.

Multimedia Journalist

Liz is a multimedia journalist who joined the Gazette staff in 2019.

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