As vaccinations flow, fewer older Coloradans are getting sick and dying of COVID

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With the bulk of Coloradans over 75 and residents of long-term care centers vaccinated, the number of cases and deaths among that group has dropped in recent weeks, state health department statistics show.

Thirty-seven Coloradans 75 and older died of the virus in the first week of February. Twenty-seven more died the following week. That number fell to nine deaths in the last week of February, then to eight in the first week of March. Last week, there were fewer than five deaths among those 75 and older.

Bob Murphy, the director for AARP in Colorado, said he was relieved to see a decline.

“We are thrilled that the vaccine appears to be working in our most vulnerable, older adults and that these ghastly statistics are starting to decline,” Murphy said.

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Those 75 and older account for more than 60% of the COVID deaths in Colorado, and had the highest number of hospitalizations. Long-term care facilities in particular have been hammered by outbreaks over the past year.

Those 70 and older were given vaccination priority in February, and the group is now approaching the 80% mark for inoculations, state statistics show.

Long-term care facilities were the subject of a separate, federal vaccination push. The state says 88% of those residents have been inoculated.

The vaccination programs have cut the number of older Colorado residents battling the virus and the number of fatalities in that demographic.

In the first week of February, 350 people 75 and older were infected with the virus. A month later, that had fallen to 147 cases. Last week, it fell to 122 cases.

For long term care centers, there were 10 COVID deaths among residents in early February. For the past three weeks, there have been fewer than five.

The number of outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities plummeted in recent weeks. Last Wednesday, there were 34 nursing home outbreaks, plus 18 clusters in assisted-living facilities. In mid-January, there were 136 nursing home coronavirus outbreaks, along with 137 clusters of the virus in assisted-living facilities.

At a news conference Tuesday, Jon Samet, the dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said that 80% of those 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose. Roughly half of that group is immune to the virus, either from vaccines or a prior infection.

“We are starting to see the consequences, the beneficial consequences, of vaccinations in older Coloradans,” he said.

Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist who spoke with Samet on Tuesday, pointed to data showing that cases among older Coloradans were falling at a faster rate than the state overall.

“We’re continuing to see a greater benefit and less disease transmission occurring among that 70-plus year old population,” she said,

She said with vaccinations ongoing, the full impact for older residents hasn’t been felt.

AARP’s Murphy said that improving statistics don’t lessen the the terrible impact the virus has already had on the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“We still did lose 88 people in nursing homes in the four weeks ending Feb. 14,” he said. “It does continue. I don’t want to lose sight of that.”