Aurora region emerges as lethal viral hot spot as leaders decide whether to re-open businesses

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AURORA | Aurora’s largest county became the first Colorado jurisdiction to tally more than 100 deaths related to COVID-19 Thursday, surging past Denver to become the most lethal county in the state for virus-related fatalities, according to recent data released by the state health department. 

As of Thursday afternoon, 101 Arapahoe County residents had died due to COVID-19, according to statistics compiled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. That was an increase of 14 fatalities over the day prior. 

Denver was the county with the second-highest number of virus-related deaths, reporting 98 fatalities as of Thursday afternoon. Denver currently boasts about 70,000 more residents than Arapahoe County, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates. 

The rise in local deaths is, in part, due to officials with the local coroner’s office and health department reviewing death certificates to provide more accurate data — not frequent waves of new deaths, according to Lisa Vantine, spokesperson for the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office.

“We are monitoring all death certificates for the most accurate data possible,” Vantine wrote in an email.

Within Arapahoe County, Aurora has by far the most cases of any municipality, with 1,151 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to Tri-County Health data. 

Across the three counties Aurora covers, the city currently has 1,344 confirmed cases. That accounts for 40 percent of all cases within the Tri-County Health jurisdiction, which covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties. Within that region, Thornton claims the second-highest case total with 215.

The neighborhoods in the center of the city surrounding Expo Park, Aurora Hills and City Center currently claim the highest rates of infection in Aurora with 258 confirmed cases, according to the latest county data. The southern portion of the city also claims a high number of cases, with nearly 500 cases in a wide swath of neighborhoods flanking the Cherry Creek Reservoir. 

Tri-County health currently provides detailed mapping information so website visitors can see for themselves where in the region identified COVID-19 cases have occurred.

The numbers are front of mind as officials across the metro area scramble to determine how the state should slide back into in-person commerce, according to Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman. 

Coffman said he’s been in close communication with leaders across the Front Range to coordinate a united front of re-opening efforts. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock recently extended that city’s stay-at-home mandate through to May 8, even though Gov. Jared Polis’ statewide edict is set to expire April 26.

Details about Tri-County’s stay-at-home extension are just emerging. Without continued measures, Coffman said he’s worried the city and state will see a surge of cases this summer “if we take our foot off the brake.”

Regardless of when people return to a so-called normal pace of life, Coffman said he would like to see improved data regarding the number of hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions.

About 40 percent of the some 1,800 COVID-19 patients in Arapahoe County have been admitted to a hospital, according to county data, though officials have indicated those numbers may be incomplete. Of those hospitalizations, about 20 percent have been admitted to the ICU.

Across the state, more than 11,000 people have contracted the virus and 552 people have died, according to state data reported Thursday. More than 2,200 of those people have been hospitalized for treatment.