Health officials investigating after Aurora nursing home reports 49 cases of COVID-19, 8 deaths

Juniper Village in Aurora. Signs on the doors instruct visitors that they must be screened before entering the facility. The home, focusing inpatient care primarily for Alzheimer’s Disease patients, was the site of almost 50 cases of COVID-19 among staff and patients, and 8 patient deaths. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado.

AURORA | State and county officials have opened a probe into what precipitated an outbreak of COVID-19 at an Aurora senior-care facility that infected nearly 50 residents and staffers and left as many as eight people dead, according to information released by the state Department of Public Health and Environment late Saturday.

The facility has confirmed that five people linked to the facility have died as a result of COVID-19, according to state health officials. A trio of additional deaths tied to Juniper Village are “probable cases of COVID-19,” according to the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office.

County epidemiologists began looking into sanitary practices at the central Aurora facility late last month after learning that several staffers had contracted the virus, state health department officials said. Health authorities then began consulting with employees at Juniper Village and conducted a site visit at the facility April 2 after receiving “a formal complaint regarding the facility’s infection prevention practices,” according to state officials.

The same day as the site visit, the facility’s umbrella group, Juniper Communities, announced in an email it would be conducting nasal swab tests at all of its locations, including in Aurora.

“The true rate of infection within senior living communities is unknown across staff members and residents, so Juniper has made the decision to test residents and staff at their communities,” Juniper staffers wrote in a press release.

Conducted at a private lab, the tests confirmed 33 residents and 16 staffers at the Aurora facility had contracted the virus. Those numbers accounted for more than 70 percent of the resident population, and nearly two-thirds of all employees.

The facility remains open, though it’s currently unclear exactly how many residents and staffers remain at the site, according to spokeswoman for Juniper Communities.

The facility on East Mississippi Avenue caters to people with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

“We are distressed by the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Juniper Village and the tragic loss of life and extend our deepest sympathy to the families who lost loved ones,” Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, said in a statement. “COVID-19 can cause particularly severe illness in older adults, and we appreciate the support of CDPHE in strengthening steps to prevent further illness at this facility.”

Approximately 80 percent of the COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. have occurred in people over the age of 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state reported 7,303 cases across Colorado as of April 12, according to CDPHE data. More than 1,400 people have been hospitalized, and 290 people have died.

Officials plan to release more detailed data regarding outbreaks at Colorado nursing homes beginning April 15, according to the state health department. Updated once a week, the new breakdown will include the names of specific facilities with confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks, the number of confirmed infections and the number of deaths.

“The department is doing everything we can to be as transparent as possible regarding reported outbreaks to keep people safe while protecting  patient privacy,” State Epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said in a statement. “We continue to be aggressive in our recommendations to ensure the appropriate infection prevention measures are in place to slow and limit the spread of COVID-19 in these facilities.”