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San Juan reports 3 more deaths in outbreak at Four Corners Regional Care Center

Rural county in southeast Utah also confirms 3 previous deaths related to COVID-19

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People get tested for COVID-19 outside of the Montezuma Creek Community Health Center in Montezuma Creek, San Juan County, on May 1. The rural county in southeast Utah reported three additional deaths from COVID-19 and classified three previous deaths as caused by the novel coronavirus.

People get tested for COVID-19 outside of the Montezuma Creek Community Health Center in Montezuma Creek, San Juan County, on May 1. The rural county in southeast Utah reported three additional deaths from COVID-19 and classified three previous deaths as caused by the novel coronavirus.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

BLANDING — San Juan County announced six additional deaths for the rural county of about 16,000 people.

Three of those deaths are men over age 84 who were residents of the Four Corners Regional Care Center. That makes three COVID-19 patients who’ve died as a result of an outbreak at the Blanding long-term care facility, which began at the end of June.

As of July 12, that outbreak had 50 confirmed cases — 33 residents and 17 staff, according to a post on the care center’s website and confirmed by San Juan County health officials.

There are likely additional cases, but San Juan County hasn’t separated the source of new cases yet, according to San Juan County Health Director Kirk Benge.

The other three deaths were not residents of the care center, but they did die weeks or months ago. One was a woman, age 65-84 who passed away this month, while a second was a man, age 65-84, who died in June. The third was a woman over age 85 who died in May. All three were hospitalized at the time of their deaths, Benge said.

The delay in reporting the fatalities was due to missing medical information when county officials were notified of the deaths.

“We’d been made aware they’d died, and in a couple of cases, we’d confirmed the death,” Benge said, “But we were waiting for additional information even though we knew we had a COVID positives immediately, it wasn’t clear if deaths were caused by COVID-19. We didn’t want to count them if it was something totally unrelated, so we were waiting for some additional confirmation.”

He said the confirmations on those deaths was just a coincidence with the release of three additional deaths as part of the Four Corners Care Center outbreak. A total of three residents have now died because of the care center outbreak.

“We are saddened to share that three residents who had previously tested COVID-19 positive passed away,” read a statement on the Four Corners website date July 12. “One of those residents passed away in a hospital on Friday, July 10. Two of those residents passed away last evening, July 11, 2020. The families of the residents have been notified and we express our deepest sympathies to the residents’ families, friends and to our staff who are also mourning their loss.”

Of the three older deaths, Benge reported Tuesday, two were members of the Navajo Nation, while one was not.

These six deaths bring the county’s total to 17 COVID-19 related deaths, and Benge’s announcement came with a plea from San Juan Public Health “to remind all community members to do your part to protect everyone, including our most vulnerable populations.”

He said both the state and county have provided any resources that have been requested of them from Four Corners officials, including masks, gloves and gowns.

“Our COVID-19 positive residents are being treated and cared for in a secure wing in our facility that has a separate entrance and staff. Staff who work in our secure wing are not allowed to enter the other areas of our facility,” the statement said. “Staff members who are COVID-19 positive are self-quarantining in their own homes. We wish all our COVID-19 residents and staff a full and speedy recovery.”

This story will be updated.