As New Coronavirus Cases Drop, The Number Of Outbreaks Keep Growing in Colorado

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Sterling Correctional Facility on the outskirts of Sterling in early August 2018. It’s the largest prison in the Colorado Department of Corrections system.

Over the last week, 99 more inmates at the Sterling Correctional Facility in Eastern Colorado have contracted COVID-19, according to outbreak data released Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Despite extraordinary social distancing procedures and widespread testing, the virus has spread to a total of 539 inmates, making it home to the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the state. Two inmates have died since the beginning of May.

In addition to prisons and jails, new outbreaks were also identified at grocery stores, a medical supply company and an Amazon distribution center in Adams County, where nine workers have tested positive.

Since the Sterling Correctional outbreak was first detected on April 14, the Department of Corrections has put Sterling on a Phase III operational status, meaning inmates cannot leave their cells except for showers and to use the bathroom.

According to data on the agency’s website, more than 2,300 tests have been performed on inmates at Sterling with some inmates being tested multiple times. The widespread testing has allowed the facility to isolate positive cases based on severity and separate those who recover. As of Tuesday, 427 of the inmates that tested positive had recovered.

Other correctional facilities have also seen an uptick in cases this week. The Crowley County Correctional Facility detected an outbreak on May 2 and has since had 60 positive cases. Twenty-three of those infections occurred in the last week, and 35 of which have recovered.

There was also a new outbreak at the Washington County Justice Center, where seven inmates tested positive. That facility is managed by the county and not by the state Department of Corrections.

While the cumulative number of cases at jails and prisons continues to climb, skilled nursing facilities continue to be hotspots for the disease and represented five of the 16 new outbreaks this week.

Two retail locations, two restaurants, a landscaping company and four manufacturing and distribution facilities also had new outbreaks.

McKesson Medical Supplies, which produces personal protective equipment and other medical supplies used in the fight against the pandemic, also reported 20 positive cases among employees at a Denver facility. 

While outbreaks continue to occur, overall, the number of new cases reported to the state continues to drop. Wednesday's report contained a three-day moving average of just 201 new cases — the smallest number since March 24. The 152 new cases reported to the state on Tuesday is the smallest daily number since 125 were reported on March 22.

An average of just 4.64 percent of people tested over three days ending Tuesday were positive for COVID-19. That's the lowest since the state started tracking a three-day average of positive cases back on March 10.

A total of 1,392 people with COVID-19 have died in Colorado since the start of the pandemic, with 1,135 of those deaths classified as being caused by the viral disease.