Long-term care facilities see COVID-19 outbreaks mostly among staff following the holidays

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As residents return from holiday travel and family gatherings while the omicron variant continues to spread, Larimer County's seven-day case rate has skyrocketed and seven new COVID-19 outbreaks were reported, six of which occurred in long-term care facilities.

In data released by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Wednesday, outbreaks were reported at Columbine West Health and Rehabilitation Center, Center at Rock Creek, Riverbend and Good Samaritan in Fort Collins, as well as North Shore Health and Rehabilitation Center in Loveland, Berthoud Living Center and Republic Services, formerly Gallegos Sanitation.

Cases at the skilled nursing facilities primarily have been among staff with known exposures associated with travel and large gatherings during the holidays, said Kori Wilford, spokesperson for Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.

"At this point, we have seen very limited secondary cases among residents," she said.

With a seven-day positivity rate of 28.5% as of information listed on the county's online dashboard Friday afternoon, more than one in four people who have been tested for COVID-19 in Larimer County have tested positive.

That's the highest it's been since the pandemic first began in March 2020, when testing was much more limited.

The county's high positivity rate "tells us there is a large proportion of cases that we're not identifying," Wilford said. "The omicron variant, along with the immune evasion that comes along with it, is driving this increase," she said.

Along with the spike in the county's positivity rate, Larimer County's case rate is far higher than at any other point in the pandemic, and hospitalization rates remain at some of their highest during the pandemic.

However, experts are saying early data show that omicron is not as virulent as previous variants, meaning many people are experiencing more cold-like symptoms, and data from UCHealth show the most severe cases of COVID-19 remain among those who are unvaccinated, said UCHealth spokesperson Kelly Tracer.

According to data as of Thursday, of the 362 hospitalized COVID patients within the UCHealth system, 256 are not vaccinated. Among the 75 sickest COVID patients on ventilators, 68 are not vaccinated.

"It is too early to understand the full impact of the omicron variant," Tracer said. "While initial studies show people infected with omicron may be less likely to be hospitalized, the higher transmission rate and larger numbers of people being infected may still result in large numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients that strain hospitals’ capacity."

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Health care employees see majority of cases in newly reported outbreaks

Good Samaritan Society – Fort Collins Village had the largest newly reported outbreak with eight staff and one resident testing positive, according to state health department data. Rock Creek and Columbine West both had six staff test positive, Berthoud Living Center had four residents and two staff cases and North Shore had four staff test positive. Riverbend Health and Rehabilitation Center in Loveland reported an outbreak of three cases among staff members.

The state considers an outbreak at long-term care and correctional facilities to be more than one case, while the threshold for other locations is five or more cases.

Kerry MacFarlane, administrator of Good Samaritan Society Fort Collins Village, said all employees are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and that the facility has added precautions against COVID-19 spread following spread of the "more contagious omicron variant."

All staff and visitors are screened and required to wear masks at Good Samaritan and they are working with the state health department closely to monitor the situation, she said.

Representatives from Rock Creek and Berthoud Living Center did not return calls seeking comment.

Joel Bitler, clinical director for Columbine Health Systems, which owns and operates Columbine West and North Shore, said since the pandemic began, Columbine has seen a correlation in the positive cases in the community and nursing home numbers. "As the cases spike in the community so do they in our facilities," he said.

More than 95% of Columbine's residents are vaccinated and about 90% have received their booster, Bitler said. About 90% of staff is vaccinated and about 50% has received booster shots. Neither Columbine nor the state of Colorado requires booster shots but, "if the evidence shows that booster shots are effective every six months or annually then the state and Columbine may require them as well, similar to the annual flu vaccine requirement."

Evidence shows the booster is effective against decreasing the risk of getting the omicron variant, he said. "We hope the high percentage of residents with booster shots is why those numbers are lower."

The state has not told Columbine if its COVID-19 cases are the omicron variant, Bitler said. However, the omicron variant now accounts for 100% of all COVID-19 cases in the state, according to data from the state health department.

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At Riverbend Health and Rehabilitation Center, all three cases were among vaccinated staff, according to Courtney Deckman, administrator of the facility. Deckman said the facility does not have information regarding which variant the cases were.

She said that the employees who tested positive had varied stories, so she doesn't attribute the outbreak to one thing like holiday travel.

"There doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to COVID," Deckman said.

The facility, formerly known as Sierra Vista Health Care Center, had the county’s deadliest outbreak of the pandemic in December 2020, in which 18 residents died; there were 131 cases total in that outbreak, which was resolved in January 2021.

Tonya Morrow holds a photo of herself and her aunt Glenda Powell, 77, who died of COVID-19 at the Sierra Vista Healthcare Center last year during a memorial service for the 19 deaths due to the Coronavirus at Riverbend Health and Rehabilitation Center in Loveland on, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.
Tonya Morrow holds a photo of herself and her aunt Glenda Powell, 77, who died of COVID-19 at the Sierra Vista Healthcare Center last year during a memorial service for the 19 deaths due to the Coronavirus at Riverbend Health and Rehabilitation Center in Loveland on, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

Waste management company Republic Services reported an outbreak of five cases to the state in late December. The waste company services seven zip codes across Fort Collins.

“As COVID-19 case numbers have risen across the state, Republic Services has also experienced a recent increase in positive cases across our workforce in Fort Collins,” said Tom Maxwell, Republic Services general manager. “Any service delays, due to inclement weather or staffing, are being communicated directly to impacted customers on a daily basis.”

This is the company’s first outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

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Where is Larimer County with the mask mandate metrics?

As of data pulled from the Larimer County's COVID-19 dashboard Friday, Larimer County did not meet any of the four metrics required by health officials to end the county's mask mandate.

In its October public health order, the county cited the following benchmarks that needed to be met for 21 days before the mandate could be rescinded: fewer than 65 COVID patients in Larimer County hospitals; ICU utilization at less than 90% of usual levels; a seven-day case rate per 100,000 of less than 300; and a seven-day positivity rate of less than 10%.

As of Friday afternoon, the county had a seven-day positivity rate of 28.5%, intensive care units in county hospitals were at 114% capacity and the seven-day case rate per 100,000 residents was 868. Seventy-two COVID-19 patients were being treated in Larimer hospitals.

A "low risk" seven-day positivity rate would be 5% or lower, according to the health department's online dashboard.

Statewide, 73% of COVID patients who are hospitalized are not vaccinated, Wilford said.

See how the county's metrics have aligned with those metrics since Oct. 20, the day the mandate went into effect, in the graph below:

According to the county health department, about 70% of eligible Larimer County residents had received at least the first dose of the COVID vaccine as of Jan. 5, and 65% were fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 outbreaks in Larimer County

Note: Asterisks indicate outbreaks newly reported since data released on Dec. 29.

Bold entries indicate outbreaks with 10 or more confirmed and probable cases, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Amazon Distribution Center

Bauder Elementary School

Bennett Elementary School

*Berthoud Living Center

Cache la Poudre Elementary

Catholic Charities Shelter

*Center at Rock Creek

Centre Avenue Health and Rehab

City of Fort Collins Utilities (the state reported six cases but the city said the outbreak has grown to 11).

Colorado State University men's basketball team

*Columbine West Health & Rehab Facility

Costco Wholesale

Coyote Ridge Elementary School

Dellenbach Subaru

Eyestone Elementary School

Fort Collins Police Department

*Good Samaritan Society - Fort Collins Village

Good Samaritan Society - Loveland Village

Hach Company

Hillcrest of Loveland

Kruse Elementary School

Larimer County Alternative Sentencing Department

Larimer County Community Corrections

Larimer County Jail

Lemay Avenue Health and Rehabilitation

Lesher Middle School

Lincoln Middle School

Lopez Elementary School

Loveland High School

Lucile Erwin Middle School

Mountain View High School

New Mercer Commons

*North Shore Health & Rehab Facility

Poudre High School

Rehabilitation and Nursing Center of the Rockies

*Republic Services

Resurrection Christian Elementary

Resurrection Christian Middle/High School

Ridgeview Classical School

*Riverbend Health and Rehabilitation

Rocky Mountain High School

Thompson Valley High School

Walmart Distribution Center

Young People's Learning Center

Zach Core Knowledge Elementary School

Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at patferrier@coloradoan.com. Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at mbohannon@coloradoan.com. Please support their work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Larimer County adds 7 COVID outbreaks after holidays, amid omicron

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