UPDATE: Two deaths now linked to Rifle Veterans Home COVID-19 outbreak
Coroner’s determinations pending as 5 new Garfield County deaths being investigated
A COVID-19 outbreak at the Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home in Rifle now includes two recently confirmed deaths and a growing number of cases among facility staff.
The deaths at the Veterans Home occurred on Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, and involved a male and female, ages 98 and 96, respectively, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services, which oversees the state veterans facilities.
Meanwhile, Garfield County officials are now in the process of verifying the addition of five new recent deaths among county residents that have been reported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
The CDPHE updated its Outbreak Data webpage Wednesday to include the two confirmed COVID-19 deaths at the state-run Rifle Veterans Home. The state now lists 10 deaths in Garfield County, as opposed to the county’s six reported deaths.
An 11th possible death is also now under investigation related to COVID-19, according to a Thursday morning press release from the county.
“Public Health officials and the Garfield County Coroner’s Office are working on verifying the causes of death, in order to report the results on the Garfield County COVID-19 data page,” the release stated.
“We are aware of the unfortunate increase in deaths,” Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long said in the release. “It is tragic to see our numbers take such a sharp increase.”
She further explained, “The certification process has created a lag in reporting between the state and the county. However, the numbers will update as soon as the process is complete.”
The differences between the Garfield County Public Health numbers and the state numbers are because the Garfield County Coroner must certify that a death was COVID-19 related for the county to count it in the total, the release went on to explain.
“The state has a different process and will report the deaths as soon as they are notified,” Garfield County Coroner Rob Glassmire said in the release.
“The official determination on cause of death either by the coroner’s office or a physician certifying the death can take sometimes a week to 10 days. Regardless of the determination on cause of death, these deaths will be on the state website.”
Added Long, “Our condolences and thoughts are with all of these families. This is a sad reminder of how COVID is impacting our community.”
Another discrepancy in the county’s death total last month when the state was showing one more death than the county was cleared up when public health officials confirmed that a state-reported death actually involved a different type of coronavirus (Coronavirus HKU1), not COVID-19.
The county’s death total has remained at six since its last reported death on Nov. 12.
Meanwhile, the outbreak at the Veterans Home in Rifle now involves 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases among residents and three probable, same as last week. The number of positive cases among staff has grown, however, from 10 last week to 16 this week, and six probable cases.
“We can confirm that we have had two resident deaths at our Veterans Community Living Center at Rifle,” Elizabeth Mullins, division director of the statewide Veterans Community Living Centers, said in a Thursday statement.
“Since the pandemic began in March, we had remained COVID-19 free at our Rifle veterans home until recently when we had residents test positive,” she said.
Mullins explained that facility staff wear full personal protective equipment (PPE), as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the CDPHE.
“We work closely with CDPHE and meet with them twice a week to review our ongoing infection control policies in order to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Mullins said.
In compliance with public health orders, facility residents and staff are regularly tested, and staff receive daily antigen testing due to the high prevalence rate of COVID-19 in Garfield County, she said.
“Our staff at our Rifle veterans home continue to care for our veterans with dedication, passion and wisdom,” Mullins added. “We look forward to and are currently preparing for staff and resident vaccine administration in the coming weeks.”
Outbreaks have also been reported at three other nursing homes or independent senior living facilities in Garfield County, including the neighboring E. Dene Moore Care Center in Rifle. Renew Roaring Fork in Glenwood Springs and Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale have also had a smaller number of cases reported among staff and residents.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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