El Paso County has seen fewer confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in recent days, but it 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 has seen 28 coronavirus deaths as of Tuesday — second only to Denver, which has 31 deaths as of Tuesday. It also had 463 confirmed cases and 131 cumulative hospitalizations as of Monday, county data show.

- FULL COVERAGE: Updates, data and analysis from around Colorado.

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

El Paso County had identified coronavirus outbreaks in eight long-term care facilities as of Tuesday, said Michelle Hewitt, a spokeswoman for the agency. Denver County had confirmed 13 outbreaks as of Tuesday, said Eric Escudero, the Denver Joint Information Center.

The three El Paso County facilities with the largest outbreaks have all 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, she 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.

"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 less than five cases, the staff can isolate patients well and likely control the outbreaks, he 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 any nonessential visitors into buildings and while nursing homes are likely to have sporadic cases, he expects to see fewer large clusters, Wallace said. 

El Paso County Public health officials are working with a total of 22 facilities who have seen 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 also highlighted positive coronavirus data for El Paso County. For example, daily hospitalizations have dropped from 12 on March 31 to 3 on Sunday, the data show. The number of daily positive cases has also dropped from 33 on April 2 to 12 as of Monday, he said.

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 some 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. 

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The county is hoping to have space for 350 additional beds outside of the hospitals, he said. 

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


- MAP: Coronavirus cases in Colorado

- By The Numbers: Coronavirus in Colorado

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 636-0293.

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