March Updates: COVID-19 in Colorado

Regular updates for the month COVID-19 began to spread swiftly across Colorado

Gov. Jared Polis announced Colorado's first two cases of coronavirus in Colorado on March 5, 2020. As of Friday, March 27, tyhe state was up to more than 1,700 cases with 31 deaths. (Photo by John Herrick)
Gov. Jared Polis announced Colorado's first two cases of coronavirus in Colorado on March 5, 2020. Polis plans to lift his stay-at-home order by April 27. (Photo by John Herrick)

The story was originally published on March 5, when Colorado health officials announced the first two diagnosed cased of COVID-19 in Colorado. The story was updated regularly throughout the month. For more recent updates, visit this page

March 31, 5 p.m. update: 

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday urged Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to extend work authorizations for all Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients whose grants expire in 2020.

The DACA program provides protection from deportation for the roughly 15,000 young Dreamers in Colorado. The Trump administration seeks to undo an Obama-era immigration program and a case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Coloradans face unprecedented challenges to their economic and social lives, and this extension would provide some needed stability to our businesses and residents who benefit from opportunities that DACA provides,” Polis said in a letter to Wolf.

Here are the most recent statistics on COVID-19, an infectious disease that people continue to spread across Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

  • 2,966 cases*
  • 509 hospitalized
  • 50 counties
  • 16,849 people tested
  • 69 deaths
  • 16 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

*According to CDPHE: “Positive cases include people who tested positive, as well as cases where epidemiological investigation has determined that there is a high likelihood that an untested individual has COVID-19 due to their symptoms and close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.”

March 31, 9:45 a.m. update: 

In March, consumers in Colorado submitted about 300 coronavirus-related complaints, according to preliminary data from the Colorado attorney general’s office. Most of the complaints were centered on pricing, 37%, or refund issues, 45%.

The office has also received about 700 reports of businesses that are not following the stay-at-home order, including Hobby Lobby, The Denver Post reports.

The price-gouging complaints allege people are overcharging for toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and general cleaning supplies, food, and medical supplies, such as masks and prescriptions, according to the AG’s office. Refund complaints were related to lodging, travel, and lift tickets and skiing equipment.

“Scammers are now taking advantage of Coloradans as they search for essential products to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser in a statement. “That’s why we are asking anyone who has experienced or witnessed scams or price gouging during this public health emergency to report the incident to our office. By working together, we can protect ourselves and other Coloradans from those bad actors seeking to take advantage of this public health emergency.”

Colorado lawmakers may take up price-gouging legislation when they return to the Capitol. Whenever they return, it’s sure to be a very different session than predicted at the start of the year and one largely focused on the coronavirus response. A paid family leave policy, which was on life support before lawmakers recessed, may get a boost as the number of infected and unemployed rises in Colorado.

March 30, 4:07 p.m. update: 

Here are the most recent statistics on COVID-19, an infectious disease that people continue to spread across Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

  • 2,627 cases*
  • 414 hospitalized
  • 47 counties
  • 15,364 people tested
  • 51 deaths
  • 14 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

*According to CDPHE: “Positive cases include people who tested positive, as well as cases where epidemiological investigation has determined that there is a high likelihood that an untested individual has COVID-19 due to their symptoms and close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.”

 

March 30, 2:30 p.m. update: 

Gov. Jared Polis said on Monday new cases of COVID-19 in Colorado are slowing slightly due to social distancing measures imposed about two weeks ago.

“We have successfully slightly delayed the peak,” he told reporters at the Emergency Operations Center in Centennial.

As on Monday, there are 2,627 cases, 414 people hospitalized, and 51 people who have died of the disease, the governor said. This, he said, indicates a slightly lower growth rate of the disease. Polis pointed to the prohibition on the gathering of 10 or more people, school closures, and the closing of restaurants and bars to dine-in services as the main reasons for the lower growth rate in new cases.

It’s still too early to see the effects of the shelter-in-place order, he said. But early data indicates a change is underway. “We are showing a 60% reduction in cars on the road,” he said. “Traffic is a proxy for changes in behavior.”

At the same time, the shortage of medical equipment hasn’t improved much. The state is short about 9,000 to 10,000 ventilators, up from the previous shortage of 7,000, in the event of a surge. The state has the goal of about 1,000 ICU beds by May and another 5,000 beds by summer. The state is also short on other medical supplies, such as face masks and gowns.

March 30, 11 a.m. update: 

This morning, lawmakers gaveled out for another three days after voting to recess for two weeks on March 14. In the House, there were only nine representatives present.

Lawmakers are waiting to hear back from the Supreme Court on a question they submitted over whether they have to adjourn on May 6. In the meantime, they are balancing the need to get back to work while also trying to protect public health and safety.

“The spread of COVID-19 is a dangerous public health emergency that is taking lives every day. While balancing the need to protect the public health with the need to do the people’s work, to the extent possible we want to avoid risking the health of everyone involved at the legislature — be it the public, legislators, staff, or members of the press — and we don’t want to risk further spreading the disease,” said House Speaker KC Becker in a statement.

“These are unprecedented times, and there is a lot of uncertainty particularly as we wait to hear from the Supreme Court. Today, we’re continuing the suspension while we wait to learn from the Supreme Court whether we can pick up where we left off in the session or whether we continue our business, regardless of the pandemic, in order to adjourn on May 6.”

Separately, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has been isolating with her family in Edwards since March 13 after her husband, Taylor, tested positive for COVID-19, David O. Williams reported in Real Vail on Sunday.

Her home is in Eagle County, one of the state’s hotspots for COVID-19. She said she was tested for COVID-19 and the results came back negative.

“I will say that I haven’t been out of the house since Friday the 13th,” Ryan told Williams. “We talk about this R naught [RO] value, which is the average number of people that one infected person gives the virus to. So, I can effectively say if my son and I had it, we had not given it to anyone.”

Here are the most recent statistics on COVID-19, an infectious disease that people continue to spread across Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

  • 2,307 cases*
  • 326 hospitalized
  • 46 counties
  • 14,470 people tested
  • 47 deaths
  • 10 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

*According to CDPHE: “Positive cases include people who tested positive, as well as cases where epidemiological investigation has determined that there is a high likelihood that an untested individual has COVID-19 due to their symptoms and close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.”

 

March 27, 6:00 p.m. update: 

Gov. Jared Polis on Friday briefed reporters on the numbers behind his decision to issue a stay-at-home order this week, painting a grim picture of what’s to come even under a best-case scenario in which the social distancing measures he’s ordered work as planned. 

Broadly speaking, in a best-case scenario in which the disease spreads more slowly than expected and social distancing such as the current stay-at-home order are strictly followed, 400 people will die by June 1, according to a presentation from the governor’s office.  

In a moderate- to worst-case scenario in which the contagion spreads a bit faster, about 11,500 people could die. In Colorado as of Friday afternoon, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health, 239 people are in the hospital and 31 people have died of the disease. It has been 22 days since Colorado’s first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that attacks the lungs, was reported. 

“These are not just statistics,”  Polis said during a presentation in the Emergency Operations Center in Centennial. “These are actual people.” 

A Coloradan with the contagious disease is currently infecting another three to four people, the governor said. That infection rate is based in part on the dry and cool conditions in our state. Social distancing orders help. In one scenario in which the state does nothing to mandate or encourage social distancing, more than 33,000 people would die, Polis said. 

These death rates are also based on the health care system’s ability to handle patients. Colorado has about 1,849 ICU beds, the governor said. The state needs another 5,000 by the summer, he said, and is looking at places, such as college dorms, which could be used as a space for the hospital beds. Polis said the state has about 900 ventilators and needs 7,000 more. 

The governor was both direct and noticeably flustered at times during the presentation, calling on residents to not be dumb. When a reporter asked how much the medical equipment would cost, he shrugged off the question, almost laughing, saying it would be a “rounding error” by the time the pandemic subsides. When another reporter asked about businesses trying to skirt around his orders, he was unequivocal: “That’s against the law and those businesses will be shut down.” 

Here are the latest numbers on the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

1,734 cases*
239 hospitalized
42 counties
11,676 people tested
31 deaths
9 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

*According to CDPHE: “Positive cases include people who tested positive, as well as cases where epidemiological investigation has determined that there is a high likelihood that an untested individual has COVID-19 due to their symptoms and close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.”

March 27, 12:20 p.m. update:

As of Thursday, Colorado has received more than 61,000 unemployment applications so far this week, more than triple the official numbers from last week. 

Cher Haavind, deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said the early numbers from this week most likely will change due to verification requirements, but she expects another 15,000 to 20,000 applications again today. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we tripled it next week,” Haavind said.

The spike in unemployment claims this week can largely be attributed to systems upgrades at CDLE, Haavind said. Last week 15,000 to 20,000 people would try to file at the same time, overloading the system. CDLE upgraded and changed the way the system accepts applications, meaning the system can accept much more applications. Haavind said she expects 15,000 to 20,000 applications per day. 

Haavind said CDLE hopes benefits claims filed last week will start to see benefit claims next week. She said the department is hoping to get benefits out in 7-10 days, but more likely will be issuing checks in 10-14 days. Usually benefit claims take longer than 6 weeks. 

Gig workers, independent contractors and most self-employed people can’t currently receive benefits, but should soon be able to with the passage of the coronavirus bailout bill by the House on Friday. 

The bailout bill also could lengthen the amount of time someone can receive benefits by 16 weeks — a total of 42 weeks of eligibility — and could tack on an additional $600 in federal benefits onto the money states can doll out. But, Colorado has to meet a certain threshold of new unemployment claims to receive those federal dollars and lengthened eligibility period, Haavind said, and the state will know by April 10 if it passed that level. That would mean if Colorado passes, people who have already exhausted their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, can apply for an additional 16 weeks of unemployment. 

Speaking of economic impacts, on Friday, GOP senators sent a letter to Gov. Jared Polis saying they want to work with him on the response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The letter, signed by 14 of the 16 Republican state senators, also includes some criticism of the stay-at-home order: “It is our sincere belief, Governor Polis, that your actions on Wednesday have potentially sown discord and fear in Coloradans that are seeking clarity from their elected officials at this time of despair.”

They say CDPHE data indicates 44 out of 64 counties have fewer than five confirmed cases, which they acknowledge is incomplete. “With the Denver metro already under a “stay at home order,” what is accomplished by closing down the business activity and daily routines on Coloradans living in a county that has fewer than five cases of COVID-19 after weeks of dealing with this crisis.”

“Your commitment to allowing the science and data to lead the way has been promising, but certainly begs an important question: how can your administration expect Coloradans to have faith in your actions or understand the purpose behind your order, if those facts are not presented to the public, Governor?”

Sens. Jack Tate and Kevin Priola did not sign the letter.

March 26, 4:15 p.m. update: 

Here are the latest numbers on the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

1,430 cases*
184 hospitalized
39 counties
10,122 people tested
24 deaths
9 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

*According to CDPHE: “Positive cases include people who tested positive, as well as cases where epidemiological investigation has determined that there is a high likelihood that an untested individual has COVID-19 due to their symptoms and close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.”

The U.S. now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases more than 82,000 surpassing China and Italy on Thursday.

State health officials took questions from the press this morning. In response to a question about what Colorado learned during the Crimson Contagion, an exercise conducted last year in 13 states across the country to come up with a response to a potential pandemic, Scott Bookman, the state’s incident commander for the COVID-19 response, said this:

“We all learned a lot of things from exercises. I think what we are learning in the state of Colorado and across the nation today is that a lot of our plans assumed there would be surge capacity and assistance coming in from other areas. What we are realizing is that when a pandemic hits everybody all at once, those planning assumptions are no longer true,” he said.

This helps explain why states are struggling to get supplies, specifically ventilators, which are used to keep people with the lung infection alive, amid a natural disaster unlike others. “Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper,” Ed Yong, staff writer at The Atlantic, writes.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment confirmed that it accepted nearly 20,000 unemployment claims last week, and between Monday and Wednesday of this week has accepted 45,000 applications into its system. These are preliminary numbers, according to the department, and may not accurately reflect the official numbers after verification.

More than 3.2 million people filed for unemployment nationwide last week, five times as many as the previous record of 695,000 for a single week in 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

March 26, 3:45 p.m. update: 

Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Thursday closed the state’s campgrounds until further notice.

“As of today, non-campground outdoor areas of parks, including trails, boat ramps, marinas and shorelines remain open. However, CPW managers may close areas that do not allow for social distancing. This could include picnic areas, fishing piers and other more concentrated recreation areas and will be determined by location. CPW encourages people to take local and state stay-at-home orders seriously, and limit travel time wherever possible, even for approved recreation,” a news release stated

When visiting the state’s parks, health officials say practice social distancing. That means passing people at a distance of six feet.

March 26, 10:30 a.m. update: 

ACLU of Colorado this morning sent a letter to sheriffs in 52 counties warning they are constitutionally required to decrease the number of inmates in jail during the pandemic.

“Sheriffs have a societal and constitutional obligation to decrease the jail population so that inmates and staff can practice social distancing,” the 15-page letter states.

ACLU says social distancing in jails in impossible if the jails are full, all but ensuring everyone will get infected if one person does.

“It is to be expected that COVID-19 will turn incarceration into a death sentence for some Colorado prisoners,” said Rebecca Wallace, ACLU of Colorado senior staff attorney.

ALCU has already sued ICE to release immigrants from detention centers.

Separately, late last night, state health officials announced they are suspending the state’s vehicle emission testing requirements in an effort to keep people home. Health officials said they also plan to extend vehicle registration deadlines.

“Our state government is unified in finding all possible ways to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect Coloradans in this difficult time,” said Garry Kaufman, the director of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division. “Suspending emissions testing for the time being gives Coloradans one less reason to leave their home.”

Automobiles emit nitrogen oxides, which combine with volatile organic compounds and sunlight to form ozone, a toxic gas. Colorado’s Front Range has failed federal standards for ozone for more than a decade and will likely continue to fail those standards for years to come. Today, the ozone forecast is mostly “good.” But despite efforts to close just about everything down, the ozone levels reached “moderate” levels yesterday in the Denver-Boulder area, according to state data. People are still driving around. And oil and gas drilling, another top contributor to ozone, is considered a “critical” business under the governor’s emergency COVID-19 orders.

March 25, 7:15 p.m. update:

Gov. Polis’ order instructs all of Colorado to stay home — unless their movement is absolutely essential — to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Only essential travel will be allowed, but you can still take walks, go to the grocery stores or work at an essential business. Violators of the order could face up to $1,000 fine and one year in jail, but Polis said he’s counting on Coloradans to “do the right thing.” 

Similar to the counties’ orders, the statewide order allows liquor stores, gun stores, marijuana stores and childcare centers to operate. 

Our full story covering the order can be found here

As Polis fielded questions from reporters, he emphasized that Coloradans should stay home. When asked what the state is doing to help those without homes, Polis said that Colorado is doing everything it can to support local communities in meeting the needs of the homeless. The state is working with the Department of Health and Human Services, food banks and nonprofits, he said.

“There are of course many in the homeless community that also are particularly at risk because of preexisting health conditions,” Polis said. 

Polis said the state is short thousands of ventilators needed to treat COVID-19. The number is derived from models of infection rates and peak-infection scenarios. The state has not released the number of ventilators and ICU beds. When asked by The Colorado Independent why officials have not yet released that data, Polis did not directly answer and said the state needs time to acquire the thousands of ventilators and ICU beds needed.

March 25, 4:00 p.m. update: 

Gov. Jared Polis said he will issue a statewide stay-at-home order today. It will take effect Thursday and last until April 11, he said.

“We’re issuing the stay-at-home order to save lives,” Polis said. “… We’re talking about thousands of Coloradan’s lives … that will be saved by these actions that we are taking today.”

We’ll have more on this later.

March 25, 4:00 p.m. update:

Here are the latest numbers on the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

  • 1,086 cases
  • 147 hospitalized
  • 36 counties
  • 8,064 people tested
  • 19 deaths
  • 9 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

Larimer County has issued a stay-at-home starting tomorrow at 5 p.m. through April 17, according to the county website.

March 25, 1:15 p.m. update: 

Some GOP lawmakers are not happy about the stay-at-home orders popping up across the Front Range.

The lawmakers sent a letter to Douglas County commissioners urging them to terminate whatever contract the county has with Tri-County Health. The public health agency covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties and issued a stay-at-home order on Tuesday morning. (More on the order below.)

“It is our understanding that at least two of you opposed this heavy-handed application of government power,” the March 25 letter states. It continues: “Moving forward, we urge you to align Douglas County with either El Paso County Health or to create a new health agency.”

Those signing the letter include Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, Sen. Jim Smallwood, who said he has tested positive for COVID-19, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville and Reps. Kim Ransom, Kevin Van Winkle, and Mark Baisley.

In other political news, Attorney General Phil Weiser has asked the Supreme Court for permission to stop the clock on the 120-day legislative session while lawmakers recess during the pandemic. The legislature is currently scheduled to adjourn on May 6. If lawmakers can’t push that date out, Democrats will have to scramble to get as much of their policy priorities passed as possible. Gov. Jared Polis could call a special session, too.

Republican lawmakers, however, filed briefs calling on the Supreme Court to not push the date out.

March 25, 10:30 a.m. update:

Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties announced shelter-in-place orders for residents, effective 8 a.m. on March 26 through April 17.

The five counties, which represent more than 2 million residents, followed shelter-in-place orders in San Miguel County and Denver. The orders prohibit gatherings of any size, public or private, with people who do not live in the same household. The orders also prohibit traveling, except for essential services and medical care. Retail marijuana and liquor stores are still allowed to operate. So are bike stores and gun stores. People playing outside should stay more than 6-feet apart. For tips on how to get outside ethically, check out this essay in High County News.

Here’s the order for Adams. Arapahoe and Douglas counties. Here’s the order for Boulder County. Here’s Jefferson County’s announcement, which says the order will be available on the county’s website soon.

In quarantine news, early Wednesday morning, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner announced on Twitter his self-quarantine has ended, as it has been 14-days since his possible infection from a constituent.

The senator went on to write that he will be voting in favor of the Senate’s $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill, which is expected to quickly pass after Senate Democrats announced a compromise with Republican majority leaders on Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow is still in quarantine, as of a Tuesday night Twitter post, after coming in contact with an infected constituent on the same day as Gardner, March 11. Crow wrote that he’s working on his U.S. Census.


March 24, 4:15 p.m. update:

Here are the latest numbers on the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

  • 912 cases
  • 84 hospitalized
  • 35 counties
  • 7,701 people tested
  • 11 deaths
  • 7 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

March 24, 2:50 p.m. update: 

The Colorado Apartment Association recommended to its members Tuesday that they create payment plans for renters who can’t pay, waive late fees through the end of April, halt evictions and avoid rent increases. 

“As an association representing all rental residents in Colorado, today we’re standing with Governor Polis and recommending that our members take steps to help residents in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mark Williams, executive vice president of the Colorado Apartment Association, said in a press release. 

The association says it represents the owners of more than 282,000 apartment homes in the state. 

A change.org petition is asking Gov. Jared Polis to put a moratorium on all rents, mortgages, utilities and loan payments during the COVID-19 crisis. It received more than 37,000 signatures. 

Seperately, a data collection company, culling smartphone GPS data, has come up with a scorecard that seeks to measure how well states are practicing social distancing.

Colorado, Unacast says, gets an A. The scoring tool looks at changes in the average distance traveled pre- and post-COVID-19 and correlates it with the number of cases in the state. “The more cases are confirmed, the greater the decrease in the average distance traveled on the county level,” the company’s early analysis shows. In Colorado, the average distance traveled dropped by 41% between March 14 and March 21. 

The U.S. as a whole received a B grade, with about 40% less distance traveled compared to the average. 

Wyoming received an F, the lowest grade of any state. Its smartphone users cut average travel by less than 10%. 

The practice of tracking citizens’ social distancing through their smartphones is already being used in South Korea and, as The Washington Post reported, U.S. officials have been in talks with technology companies about using anonymous location data to combat the coronavirus.

March 24, 9 a.m. update: 

On Monday afternoon, Boulder joined Denver, San Miguel County and other local governments in issuing a stay-at-home order. According to a news release from city officials, the order “requires that all people in the City of Boulder stay home and for businesses to implement work from home policies and delivery of goods to the greatest extent possible. All individuals are encouraged to conduct only essential activities necessary to promote health and safety, such as getting groceries, obtaining medical supplies, and getting outdoors only if strict social distancing is observed.”

Here’s the order. We have more on Denver’s stay-at-home order below.

The City of Denver has amended the stay-at-home order, through Twitter, to exempt liquor stores and recreational marijuana dispensaries with “extreme” distancing measures. It’s unclear what qualifies as “extreme physical distancing.” All construction projects will now be exempt from the order, as well.


March 23, 5 p.m. update:

Here’s the most recent data on COVID-19 in Colorado from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which includes cases up until March 22.

  • 720 cases
  • 72 hospitalized
  • 31 counties
  • 6,224 people tested
  • 7 deaths
  • 5 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

March 23, 3:45 p.m. update:

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has issued a “stay-at-home” order in response to COVID-19.

“This isn’t a recommendation anymore: people need to stay at home,” Hancock said Monday afternoon.

The order restricts residents from leaving their homes for all but “essential activities” and will go into effect at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, lasting until April 10 or later, Hancock said. The order encourages everyone who is not a member of an essential industry to stay home, but does not prohibit walking, hiking, or buying essential goods. Healthcare, infrastructure, grocery stores, social services, childcare, banks and hardware stores are included as essential industries. 

Parks will remain open, but playgrounds will be closed, the mayor said. Recreational marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores are considered non-essential businesses and will be closed when the order takes effect. Medical marijuana dispensaries will still be allowed to operate and restaurants will still be allowed to offer take out and delivery, so their employees would still be allowed to work. Construction, unless it is maintaining “essential infrastructure,” is prohibited. 

Hancock said the order allows people to check-in on elderly family members and friends, and he encourages them to do so. 

Park rangers and police will discourage congregating and inform citizens on social distancing, he said, and will enforce the order as a last resort. Violators may face up to a $999 fine, according to the order. 

Hancock said because Denver is the most densely populated city and county in Colorado and has the highest number of positive cases of COVID-19 — 125 as of March 23 — it needs to take extra steps to help the state.  Denver’s emergency services support Colorado’s mountain and western-slope towns during emergency situations and can’t be allowed to become overwhelmed, he said.

Gov. Jared Polis, in a press release, praised stay-at-home orders issued by Denver and other localities. San Miguel County was the first to issue a similar order on March 18

“I’m strongly in support of these local efforts, and it’s extremely important that just as our state is acting boldly and urgently, that our county health departments are also taking strong actions guided by science, data, and the real-life situation on the ground…,” Polis said in the release.

Hancock implied that he’s been in communication with other Colorado cities and that they’re likely to follow suit.

Here’s the order and the complete list of essential activities Denver citizens can engage in come Tuesday night. 

Executed Public Health Orde… by CPR Digital on Scribd


March 23, 1:30 p.m. update: 

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the state on Monday received some medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. The supplies include 49,200 N95 masks, 115,000 surgical masks, 21,420 surgical gowns, 21,800 face shields and 84 coveralls. This is enough, CDPHE says, “for approximately one full day of statewide operations.”

“We are relieved that we have finally received materials from the Strategic National Stockpile, but it’s not nearly enough,” said Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 Incident Commander. “We’re going to need more supplies and are grateful to all our partners across the state who are donating supplies and stepping up to help Colorado meet the demand.”

State health officials said supplies will be distributed “to every county health department and tribe throughout the state where they are needed most.” Factors include county population, the portion of the population that is older than age 65 proportional to the state population, the number of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals, and if the county or tribe has received supplies previously, according to state health officials.

Separately, Rep. Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat from Commerce City who last week said she tested positive for COVID-19, said on Monday she actually had tested positive for a different coronavirus, NL63. She is still recovering at home.

“While I am still feeling very sick from this other coronavirus, I am relieved to know that I haven’t inadvertently exposed anyone at the Capitol or in my community to COVID-19,” she said in a statement Monday.

“When I first received the results indicating a positive test for COVID-19, I felt it was important to notify people who may have been exposed; so I feel it is important to share this update as well, to ease the concerns of people I had been in close contact with. We know this disease is spreading rapidly, and one rare testing mishap should not change the seriousness with which we all must confront this public health emergency. Everyone has to follow the advice of public health officials and social distance, stay at home, wash your hands and follow best practices for stopping the spread of the virus.”

March 23, 12:16 p.m. update:

Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican from Parker, said he has tested positive for COVID-19. He is the second Colorado lawmaker to say they have tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“I want to first let everybody know that I’m currently feeling great. Thankfully, my symptoms were mild and subsided quickly. Unfortunately, this shows just how valuable social distancing is in this difficult time, as despite my best efforts to follow the advice of medical professionals, I still contracted COVID-19 from an unknown source. I am currently quarantined and isolated at my second home in Carlsbad (California) until March 30th. Stay safe, everybody,” Smallwood said.

According to a news release from the Colorado Senate GOP, Smallwood experienced symptoms (mild fever and chills) from Monday, March 16 until Tuesday, March 17, when he was tested. The results came back on Sunday, March 22.

Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene next Monday, though they will likely vote to extend the recess. Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, Democrat of Commerce City, said last week that she tested positive for COVID-19, too.

March 23, 12 p.m. update:

Attorney General Phil Weiser this morning called on the state courts to reschedule criminal trials in an effort to protect judges, jurors, witnesses, attorneys, defendants, and others from COVID-19.

“In the face of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, conducting criminal trials at this time risks jeopardizing all of those individuals, as well as the general public,” Weiser said.

Delaying a trial raises questions about a person’s right to a speedy trial, Weiser acknowledged.

“Under Colorado’s speedy trial statute, criminal charges must be entirely dismissed if a case does not proceed to trial by a certain deadline. The statute, however, allows prosecutors and defendants to agree to restart the clock and push the deadline out. Thus, I urge the parties in criminal cases to reach an agreement on doing just that —recognizing that we are in a public health emergency,” he said.

He added, “Over the longer term, I will recommend to the General Assembly that we clarify that public health emergencies should be recognized in the speedy trial law as a basis to stop the clock.”

In an order on March 16, Chief Justice Nathan Coats gave each judicial district in Colorado discretion for how to handle the coronavirus outbreak. A death penalty trial in Adams County begins amid the pandemic. And a chief judge in Denver ordered the temporary closure of a courthouse only after an attorney contracted the disease.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser spoke to reporters about a report detailing sexual abuse in Colorado’s Catholic church on Oct. 23, 2019. On March 23, 2020, he called on the state’s courts to reschedule trials to address the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by John Herrick)

March 22, 5:55 p.m. update:

Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday afternoon ordered all “non-critical workplaces” in Colorado to cut their in-person workforces in half by Tuesday. The order is an effort to increase social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19. It will last through 11:59 p.m. Friday, April 10, 2020.

He did not issue a shelter-in-place order, as seen in cities across the county.

According to a news release, critical workplaces that are exempt from the order include:

  • Health care operations

  • Critical Infrastructure, including utilities, fuel supply and transmission, public water, telecommunications, transportation, hotels, organizations that provide for disadvantaged people, and food supply chain

  • Critical Manufacturing, including food, beverages, chemicals, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, sanitary products, agriculture

  • Critical Retail, including grocery stores, liquor stores, farms, gas stations, restaurants and bars for takeout, marijuana dispensaries but only for medical or curbside delivery, hardware stores

  • Critical Services, including trash and recycling, mail, shipping, laundromats, child care, building cleaning and maintenance, auto supply and repair, warehouses/distribution, funeral homes, crematoriums, cemeteries, animal shelters and rescues

  • News Media

  • Financial Institutions

  • Providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations

  • Construction

  • Defense

  • Public Safety services like law enforcement, fire prevention and response, EMTs, security, disinfection, cleaning, building code enforcement, snow removal, auto repair

  • Vendors that provide critical services or products including logistics, child care, tech support, or contractors with critical government services

  • “Critical Government Functions”

Polis also asked people to shop less and exercise outside less frequently and during less busy hours. He said the orders and recommendations won’t necessarily be enforced by the state but that there is another enforcer. “His name is the Grim Reaper,” Polis said. 

“It will limit your exposure, our exposures, and save lives,” he said of social distancing measures. 

Polis also said the state is short by about 7,000 ventilators, which are used to keep people with the disease alive. The number is derived by considering certain infection rate scenarios at the peak of a potential surge. A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the federal government sent Colorado 49,200 N95 masks and the state needs approximately 68,000.

On Saturday, we wrote about how health care workers are worried they’ll get infected with COVID-19 before the surge due to the shortage of personal protective equipment.

A construction worker in Fort Collins on March 23, 2020. Construction workers are considered critical and exempt from Gov. Jared Polis’s latest order calling on some employers to cut their in-person workforce by 50%. (Photo by Tina Griego)

March 22, 4:09 p.m. update: 

Here are the most recent statistics on COVID-19 in Colorado from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

591 cases (up from 475 cases at 5 p.m. Saturday. See Saturday’s numbers below.)
58 hospitalized
29 counties
5,436 people tested
6 deaths
5 outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities

On Sunday afternoon, after an attorney tested positive for COVID-19, the chief judge in Denver decided to close the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse for two days.  Chief Judge Michael Martinez also has postponed appearances next week while the court, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, and attorneys come up with a plan “to implement virtual courtrooms where all appearances will be conducted via remote access.”

Earlier this week, attorneys said they were frustrated judges were still asking them to go to the courthouse and appear with their clients in-person.

March 21, 5 p.m. update: 

Here are the most recent statistics on COVID-19 in Colorado from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

475 cases
49 hospitalized
29 counties
4,550 people tested
5 deaths

March 21, 12 p.m. update: 

For people on the Front Range looking to get outside this weekend, know Rocky Mountain National Park is closed.

On Wednesday, the National Park Service waived entrance fees to national parks in an effort to give people cooped up due to COVID-19 social distancing orders some relief. Gov. Jared Polis has also been urging people to play outside during these strange times. Then on Thursday, Estes Park reported its first case of the virus. Mayor Todd Jirsa warned the “influx of visitors at this critical time presents a grave public health concern” in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. He added, “We have an older, high-risk population with many retirees and limited critical resources.”

And if you go elsewhere in the backcountry, remember emergency services are currently in high demand due to COVID-19 testing and treatment. People who would otherwise be skiing at resorts may now also be in the backcountry due to mandatory closures.

“The frontcountry has become the backcountry,” the Colorado Search and Rescue Association said on its Facebook page.

It continued, “Sheriffs and search and rescue teams, working with ski area managers, are now the primary responders to all snowsport areas. Please consider how your decisions may affect the emergency response capabilities within the outdoor community. Our amazing mountains are a source of rejuvenation and healing for so many, please visit them responsibly and cautiously in this time of COVID-19.” 

March 20, 4:30 p.m. update: 

Here are the most recent statistics on COVID-19 in Colorado from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

  • 363 cases
  • 44 hospitalized
  • 24 counties
  • 3,680 people tested
  • 4 deaths

Unemployment claims in Colorado are up 1,454% between Monday and Thursday of this week, compared to last week, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Filed claims topped 20,000 between Monday and Thursday and are expected to hit 25,000 by the end of the day Friday, Cher Haavind, CDLE’s deputy executive director, wrote in an email to the press. The department’s unemployment call center received 99,000 calls this week, compared to 9,900 last week, according to CDLE data.

March 20, 1 p.m. update:

Gov. Jared Polis said Friday he’s working on an executive order to halt evictions and displacement in Colorado – a move that follows a decision by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday to suspend evictions and foreclosures for mortgage holders through the end of April. Soon after, federal loan agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie May also temporarily suspended evictions and foreclosures for Americans with federally backed mortgages. 

Given the influx of unemployment claims — more than 20,000, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment — Polis said he’s also working on an executive order to speed up unemployment payments. 

The governor encouraged financial institutions to halt all billing for loan payments. He would not answer whether he will stop landlords from collecting rents, saying that he is focused on working with law enforcement to halt evictions right now. He also encouraged all utility companies to not disrupt service, but did not issue any binding orders to force them to do so.

Colorado is extending the income tax payment deadline from April 15 until July 15, Polis said, an order that applies to all filers. The federal tax payment filing and payment deadline was also extended to July 15 on Friday.

In an effort to boost revenues, Polis said, restaurants can now sell alcohol by take-out and delivery for the length of the shutdown. 

He also announced the formation of an emergency economic council made up of members of the private sector. Federico Peña, former Denver mayor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation, will be among those on the council and spoke at the press conference Friday. 

“This is a global economic challenge the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime… We’re going to focus on both short-term and long-term strategies,” Peña said. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began a campaign today to send resources to communities in the state that, up until this point, have been without testing. 

A mobile testing center at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds in Salida will open from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and the department said more communities will soon see expanded testing resources. 

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner has been on self-imposed quarantine since Tuesday, after he was possibly exposed to the coronavirus from one of his constituents.

March 19, 5:30 p.m. update: 

Gov. Jared Polis took additional steps on Thursday afternoon to limit the spread of COVID-19, which has hospitalized at least 38 people in Colorado and left four people dead. Crowley County reported on Thursday that an elderly man with chronic medical conditions has died.

Polis suspended elective and non-essential surgeries and procedures because, he said, “Our health care personnel have limited access to necessary equipment and supplies, particularly personal protective equipment (PPE), and our hospitals must reserve beds, respirators and ventilators to manage and assist patients that become critically ill.” Here’s the order.

He also extended the public health order closing bars, restaurants, theaters, gyms and casinos to the end of April, and included nonessential personal service facilities, horse track and off-track betting facilities statewide. Nonessential personal services include hair or nail salons, spas, and tattoo or massage parlors, according to the order.

And the governor updated an executive order for in-person contact during the state’s elections. Here’s the order.

“As a state, we are looking at all possible solutions to ensure we are protecting the health and safety of Coloradans and minimizing the duration of the crisis,” Polis said in a statement. “This is a coordinated effort with all state agencies and community partners to utilize every resource available during this difficult time to reduce the severity and duration of the crisis. Together, we will get through this.”

Polis also created a special health insurance enrollment period for uninsured Coloradans from March 20 through April 3, 2020.

“Many people are unaware that they are eligible for financial assistance to help lower their premiums,” said Michael Conway, Colorado Insurance Commissioner. “We encourage everyone who is uninsured to use this opportunity to visit Connect for Health Colorado, check what assistance they may be eligible for, and enroll in coverage.”

Polis, in a press release, reminded Coloradans who lose their job and their employer-sponsored healthcare because of the coronavirus that they have a 60-day period to enroll in an individual health plan. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is urging people to self-isolate to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This applies to people who have tested positive for the disease, have symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath or fever) or even those of a common cold (cough, body aches, fatigue, and chest tightness), or are close contacts of a person who either has a positive test or symptoms of illness.

March 19, 4 p.m. update: 

Here are the latest numbers on the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

  • 277 cases
  • 38 hospitalized
  • 22 counties
  • 2,952 people tested
  • 2 deaths (a third death was reported in El Paso County. More on that below)

March 19, 3 p.m. update 

The Economic Policy Institute estimates Colorado will lose close to 98,000 jobs by June 2020 because of the coronavirus. 

The nonpartisan think tank used projections from banking giants Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, which estimate that between 3 million and 7.5 million jobs will be lost nationally by the summer. The unemployment forecasts assume the government enacts moderate stimulus measures.

The total loss of private sector jobs in Colorado is estimated by EPI to be more than 4%, factoring in the fact that 26.5% of Colorado’s private jobs are retail, service industry and leisure based. 

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced measures to help businesses hurt by social distancing, which has left many businesses across the state all but shut amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The city will create a $4 million grant program and waive late penalties for business taxes this year, the mayor said during a press conference with reporters Thursday afternoon.

March 19, 1:30 p.m. update:  

Health officials in El Paso County on Thursday reported the county’s second COVID-19 death, bringing the number of deaths statewide to three. State public health officials have yet to confirm, but are holding a daily briefing at 2 p.m.

In a Facebook post, officials described the patient as a man in his 60s who had been exposed to the virus through the county’s first fatality. 

“The man was a contact of our first El Paso County COVID-19 death, a woman in her 80s who had preexisting conditions and passed away last week,” officials wrote.

As reported by The Denver Post, Colorado health officials fear that the woman who died last week could have exposed players at a bridge center in Colorado Springs in late February and early March. 

“We offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends, and we are very saddened by this news,” said Susan Wheelan, El Paso County Public Health Director, in the post. “Our team, including members of the public health system, are working around the clock to take proactive steps to help limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community, and we ask that residents join us in doing their part.”

As of 12 p.m. on March 19, there are 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in El Paso County and 216 officially confirmed cases statewide. Colorado’s second death was announced Tuesday — a Weld county man in his 70s. 

Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat from Commerce City, said in a statement Thursday morning she has tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing symptoms.

“While I have had a confirmed case of bronchitis for much of March, my doctors have told me that it’s likely I contracted COVID-19 in the last few days. I am staying quarantined at home, and my children and husband are self-isolating. We will all get through this together, and I look forward to seeing my friends, colleagues and constituents when I’m better and no longer at risk of spreading the virus to others,” she said in a statement.

Lawmakers recessed until March 30 last Saturday.

House Speaker KC Becker told The Colorado Independent she’s trying to work with leadership to have a public meeting next week to discuss the remainder of the session. Beyond the issue of spreading the disease, she said some lawmakers have childcare challenges, too.

“Things are changing so quickly,” she said. “We keep telling everyone to be flexible and to be patient.”

Colorado small businesses impacted by COVID-19 can now seek up to $2 million in low-interest federal loans from the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, according to Gov. Polis’ office. Polis announced in a press release on Thursday that the state’s application for federal disaster area designation has been approved.

“This critical designation allows small businesses in all 64 Colorado counties to seek federal recovery loans that can help them through this challenging time. I thank the Colorado federal delegation for their efforts to help unlock this assistance,” Polis said in the release.

According to the governor’s office, “small businesses, private non-profit organizations, small agricultural cooperatives and small aquaculture enterprises impacted by COVID-19 can seek federal loans to pay key needs such as fixed debts, payroll, and accounts payable.”

March 18 update: 

Gov. Jared Polis has issued an executive order closing all Colorado school buildings starting Monday, March 23 through Friday, April 17.

The order, issued Wednesday evening, applies to “all public and private elementary and secondary schools in Colorado, including public preschools on public school campuses.”

The order also directs the state’s Commissioner of the Department of Education (CDE) to help school systems “as they develop and implement plans to assist families and students in accessing alternative learning, including online learning opportunities, ensuring the provision of school meals in accordance with the National School Lunch Act, offering waivers of instructional time as appropriate, and offering additional flexibility important for maintaining stability and ensuring fairness for students and employees.”

Chalkbeat Colorado reports “many of the state’s school districts had already decided to close, with mostly rural districts being the exception.”

The governor also amended a previous order temporarily closing the state’s downhills ski resorts. He added an extra two weeks of closure, ending now on April 6, “due to the continued spread of the virus in our mountain communities.”

Also Wednesday night, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Executive Director Jill Ryan, following the White House’s lead, issued a public order banning public gatherings of more than 10 people. The order reads as follows:

Effective at 12:01 AM on March 19, 2020, all mass gatherings shall be limited to
no more than ten (10) people. Gatherings subject to this Order include, but are not
limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based events, sporting events with
spectators, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals, and any
similar event or activity that brings together (10) or more persons in a single room or
space at the same time in a venue such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large
conference room, meeting hall, private club, or any other confined indoor or outdoor
space.

II. This Order shall not apply to the following:
A. The Colorado State Legislature or the Colorado courts;
B. Normal operations at airports, bus and train stations, health care
facilities, grocery or retail stores, pharmacies, or other spaces where (10) or more
persons may be in transit for essential goods and services;
C. As authorized in Public Health Order 20-22, restaurants may continue to
offer delivery and take out food services in accord with the requirements contained in
that Order; and
D. Office environments, government buildings where essential government
services are offered, or factories where more than (10) people are present but social
distancing measures of maintaining at least 6 feet between individuals is standard.

Earlier Wednesday, Colorado health officials reported 216 total positive cases of COVID-19 in Colorado.

For a more detailed breakdown of where these cases are, visit the state’s new website, where health officials say they will be posting updates every afternoon around 4 p.m. The site has experienced some technical and data issues and The Colorado Sun is reporting 221 cases.

This number of positive COVID-19 cases is largely a reflection of the state’s ability to test people, which is limited by the number of kits and personal protective equipment, such as face masks, for healthcare workers.

The state’s epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy told reporters Wednesday that the state is focused on testing people with underlying health conditions, older people and healthcare workers. “Not everyone with mild symptoms needs to be tested,” she said. 

But that shouldn’t change people’s efforts to distance themselves from others, health experts say. “If you have symptoms (fever, cough, and shortness of breath), don’t wait for a test to self-isolate,” state health officials said in a news release Wednesday.

Even people who are not showing symptoms may still transmit the infection, new research suggests. “Act Like You Already Have Coronavirus,” was the headline in this HuffPost story today. For tips on self-isolating, check out Mike Littwin’s latest column.

Health experts say social distancing and self-isolation are tools to slow the spread of COVID-19 so as to not overwhelm the state’s hospitals, which are already short on supplies (more on that below).

But not everyone is OK with social distancing efforts. In an interview with The Denver Post, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican and chair of the Colorado Republican Party, said that the country is panicked and overreacting. “You don’t shut restaurants down for 30 days,” he said.

“I have no problem with (stopping) sporting events or things that don’t impact our civil liberties and don’t impact everyday life. Those are things that I think we can suspend for a period of time. But it’s just craziness to shut down businesses or parts of the economy that are absolutely necessary,” added Buck, a civil libertarian and member of the House Freedom Caucus.

In other news, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser today urged student loan servicers, debt collection agencies, and creditors to “refrain from mandatory debt collection efforts from those who are unable to pay because of their financial circumstance.”

“My office is looking for ways to help Coloradans affected by this crisis. We encourage financial institutions to act responsibly and compassionately. We will continue to evaluate and investigate relevant legal avenues to protect borrowers and lessen the serious impact of this crisis,” Weiser said in a statement.

11:45 a.m. update 

“Blood, time, money. Whatever you got, we need it.”

That was Gov. Jared Polis’s message to reporters at the state Capitol on Wednesday as the state scrambles to ensure there are enough medical supplies and staff to handle a potential “surge” on the state’s hospitals. COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, continues to spread across the state, country and globe. As of Tuesday afternoon, Colorado health officials are reporting 183 positive cases and two deaths.

Twice Polis delayed answering questions from reporters to double down on his message that people should help out. “I want to keep the focus on what people can do,” he said.

Polis said people can donate money or sign up to volunteer at HelpColoradoNow.org. He said donations to the relief fund can be used for purchasing medical supplies and helping workers, including hourly, part-time and healthcare workers. He said the state needs volunteers to help with food delivery, childcare, mental health support and organizing. He said it’s also safe to donate blood and people should do so.

Hospitals in Colorado are already facing a supply shortage in anticipation of a surge of patients infected with the disease, CPR News reported. A story by ProPublica found that, in a moderate scenario in which 40% of the adult population contracts the disease over 12 months, Denver would be among the regions that would need to expand capacity beyond what it has already. The influx of patients would require 6,510 beds over 12 months, which is 2.9 times the number of available beds in that time period, the reporters found using data released by the Harvard Global Health Institute.

“I can’t guarantee that our hospitals won’t be overwhelmed,” Polis told reporters on Wednesday.

He said the state should have data on the number of ventilators in the state’s hospitals as soon as this afternoon.

In a letter to patients on Wednesday, Will Cook, president and CEO of Vail Health, which operates a hospital in Vail, said, “We need to take this seriously, NOW.”

“The truth is, if we don’t commit to disciplined social distancing now, our 56-bed Vail Health Hospital will be overflowing within 2-4 weeks. We will not have enough respirators to keep people alive, and locals of all ages will be dying. The other hospitals in America will be full too. We’ve already had a handful of COVID-19 patients transported to Denver for more advanced care; however, once the Denver hospitals are full, we will no longer be able to transport these people to a lower elevation.”

There was a notable echo on the Facebook live stream. His administration was spaced out behind him as he spoke in the Capitol’s west foyer. The statehouse was closed to the public on Wednesday morning for cleaning.

Polis’s press conference came on the heels of a White House briefing during which President Donald Trump was pressed on his use the term “Chinese virus.” Trump later defended the term “Kung-flu,” too. He’s not alone. Below is a tweet from the Colorado House GOP’s chief of staff:

 

The governor also said Wednesday that Colorado schools that have closed due to coronavirus will not be likely to reopen this year.

As Chalkbeat Colorado reports: “More than 95% of Colorado students are already out of school as districts across the state have closed in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Some small rural districts remain open, and the Colorado Education Association, the state teachers union, has called on the governor to order all remaining districts to close.”

March 17 update: 

Colorado health officials on Tuesday reported the state’s second death due to COVID-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the new coronavirus. He was a man in his 80s, Weld County health officials said.

There are now 183 positive cases in Colorado and 20 people are hospitalized, health officials say. The state has a new website with data visualizations on the latest numbers.

Following an order from the state health department to close restaurants and bars to sit-in eating, among other efforts to increase social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, some workers are feeling the effects. The Colorado Labor Department has seen a surge in unemployment claims, state health officials said Tuesday, from 400 on March 7 to more than 6,800 on March 17.

Both U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Jason Crow said they are self-quarantining after having contact with a Colorado constituent who tested positive for coronavirus. Neither are showing symptoms, they each said in statements.

“I was alerted today by the Tri-County Health Department that a Coloradan who visited my Washington office for a constituent meeting has tested positive for coronavirus,” Gardner said in a statement.

He said he is self-quarantining “out of an abundance of caution with an effective date of March 11th at the recommendation of the Tri-County Health Department.”

Crow said in a statement issued just after 7:30 p.m. that “we have to treat any possible exposure with the utmost caution … This is a pandemic and it’s incumbent upon eery American to do their part.”

11:45 a.m. 

Criminal justice groups, including ACLU Colorado and the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender, are calling on Gov. Jared Polis and other state leaders to immediately decrease the number of people in Colorado’s jails and prisons, decrease of new admissions into jails and prisons, change of court practice to dramatically decrease in-person appearances, and implement “evidence-based, humane and rights-affirming measures to protect the health and wellbeing of the inmates and staff who spend the majority of their time in Colorado’s jails and prisons.”

“It is not a question of if COVID-19 will infect Colorado’s jails and prisons; it is a matter of when,” the letter states.

Last week, we wrote about how public defenders are filing petitions to have certain inmates released from jail.

The Aurora Sentinel reported there are 10 detainees at Aurora’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center who have been isolated following a possible exposure to COVID-19. Our story is here.

10:30 a.m. 

Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill on Tuesday allowing the state’s major parties to have remote participation in their assemblies, which are used to nominate candidates to the June 30 primary ballot.

The move comes as Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio postpone or plan to postpone their primary elections, according to The New York Times. Arizona, Florida and Illinois are holding their primaries as planned today, as of Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Colorado’s primary is still scheduled for June 30. In a separate executive order, Polis directed the Secretary of State to issue emergency rules for participation in the primary.

“During this challenging time, we must continue to work together to ensure Coloradans have every opportunity to participate in the democratic process,” Polis said in a statement.

In other news, on Monday evening, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to issue an opinion on whether lawmakers’ two-week recess will count toward the 120-day legislative session. If the session can be extended past May 6, when lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn, it will take the pressure off them to return to the Capitol amid a public health crisis in order to pass critical legislation such as the state budget.

On Monday, we wrote about how the COVID-19 outbreak could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, an unanticipated reality that will make passing a balanced budget this year even more difficult.

March 16 update: 

Gov. Jared Polis’s administration ordered the closure of in-house dining at all restaurants and bars in Colorado for at least 30 days. Delivery and takeout will still be available. 

The order, issued by Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is effective Tuesday at 8 a.m.

According to the order, it applies to food courts, cafes, coffeehouses, and other similar places of public accommodation offering food or beverage for on-premises consumption, bars, taverns, brewpubs, breweries, microbreweries, distillery pubs, wineries, tasting rooms, special licensees, clubs, and other places of public accommodation offering alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption, cigar bars; gymnasiums; movie and performance theaters, opera houses, concert halls, and music halls, and casinos.

Polis said there are over 12,000 restaurants and bars in the state. 

“Our hearts go out to 240,000 employees in the food and beverage industry,” Polis told reporters during a press conference at the state Capitol Monday afternoon. He added, “The more seriously we take this public health emergency, the better we can weather the storm.”

The announcement came after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 29 new positive cases based on overnight results. This brings Colorado’s total number of cases to 160.

The state health officials said they can confirm completed test results on about 1,216 people by the state lab since testing started on February 28. Due to the high volume of tests being processed by the state lab and a need to get the information out quickly, state health officials said, the summary data does not contain a demographic breakdown. The data will be provided as soon as the lab is able to provide a statistical breakdown, state health officials said. 

Polis said the number of cases in the state is likely much higher than what has been reported.

“We know there are likely thousands more here in Colorado,” he said. “… We are about where Italy was two weeks ago.”

3:30 p.m. 

The speedy spread of COVID-19 has slowed Colorado’s economy, state economists say. 

In December, Colorado was projected to collect an extra $832.5 million in revenue for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. But, according to a quarterly revenue forecast by the Legislative Council, that revenue projection was adjusted down to just $27.3 million for next year. The forecast for the following 2021-22 fiscal year was reduced by $378.9 million. 

The forecast could have real implications for state policy, including the governor’s $27 million effort to increase preschool enrollment. The state might not be able to add any money to K-12 schools, either. Lawmakers voted to recess for two weeks on Saturday and have yet to pass a state budget, among much other unfinished business this session.

“We knew this would be a difficult budget year, and it’s clear that uncertainty in the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic will make an already tight budget even tougher than we had anticipated just a few months ago,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Democrat from Pueblo who chairs the Joint Budget Committee.

12:00 p.m. 

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday joined cities across the country and ordered Denver’s bars and restaurants to close to dine-in customers in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The order goes into effect at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and will be in place for at least eight weeks. Restaurants and bars still will be allowed to offer carryout and deliveries.

The mayor made the announcement during a Monday morning press conference. The city’s licensing inspectors will be out monitoring compliance, he said.

Hancock also said the city is temporarily calling off housing evictions through a directive to the county’s sheriff deputies. But, he added, he doesn’t believe the city and county have the authority to waive late rent fees.

The mayor also said the city needs additional personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves. If the city does not get more resources, he said, “all of our efforts will come to a screeching halt.”

City officials are also seeking housing in dorms, motels and unrented apartments for people who are homeless.

In other news, Xcel announced that it will not shut off power due to late payments “until further notice. If you are having difficulty paying your bills, contact us and we will arrange a payment plan that works for you,” the investor-owned utility said in an email to customers.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock spoke to reporters at the state Capitol on March 13, 2020 about the city's response to the COVID-19 outbreaks. (Photo by John Herrick)
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock spoke to reporters at the state Capitol on March 13, 2020 about the city’s response to the COVID-19 outbreaks. (Photo by John Herrick)

March 15 update:

9:39 p.m. Denver is preparing a public order following Sunday’s revision of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommending that in-person events of 50 or more people be postponed or canceled for the next eight weeks. City officials will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Monday “to expand on how this new guidance will impact residents, businesses, and events in our city.”

State public health officials earlier Sunday also began recommending that Coloradans follow the new CDC recommendations.

2 p.m. In its Sunday afternoon update, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 30 new positive cases based on overnight results. This brings Colorado’s total number of cases to 131.

Today’s 30 positive cases break down as follows:

Source: CDPHE, March 15, 2020

Of the 30, 11 are women and 19 are men. The test results include 25 tests from the state lab and five from private testing facilities. The state will no longer be reporting the total number of tests administered in the state because private labs are not required to report negative results, according the a press release from CDPHE. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is no longer requiring its lab to perform secondary confirmation of positive results, so the state will no longer be using the word “presumptive” for its positive cases.

The state’s high country was hit first and has seen a disproportionate number of cases. On Sunday, the state’s public health officials issued a bulletin urging anyone who lives in or has visited Eagle, Summit, Pitkin, and Gunnison counties in the past week to minimize contact with others — even if you are not having symptoms.

“We’re seeing extensive outbreaks in these communities,” Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said in a statement. “We are asking people to take this voluntary action to slow the spread of the disease in Colorado and keep people safe. If we do this now, our hope is that we can slow down the spread of this virus and lessen the potential stress on our health care systems and workers.”

From the bulletin: “If you are experiencing symptoms (cough, fever, and shortness of breath), you must be isolated for at least 7-10 days after the onset of symptoms. It is only safe to leave isolation if your symptoms are improving and you don’t have a fever for 72 hours immediately prior to the end of your isolation. Isolation may be longer for individuals who have more severe illness or who work in high-risk occupations like health care.”

Also on Sunday, Denver announced it would be closing its motor vehicle branches to the public beginning Monday, March 16. Staff, too, is being told not to report to work until March 26.

The city and county is offering a grace period “for expired vehicle registrations and for newly purchased vehicles not yet been registered through April 9, 2020.”  Online motor vehicle services are available at www.denvergov.org/dmv.

March 14 update: Colorado cases exceed 100

State health officials said Saturday they have learned the woman who died from COVID-19 on March 13 attended bridge games at Colorado Springs Bridge Center from Feb. 27 through March 3.

They asked that anyone who attended the Colorado Springs Bridge Center, or had close contact with some who did, between late February and early March, and who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing), to call their health care provider immediately. Do not go into the facility prior to calling ahead.

“We’re extremely concerned about possible transmission both at the tournament and in communities after they went home,” said Kimberly Pattison, El Paso County Public Health’s communicable disease program manager. “Many attendees were older people who might be especially vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.”

Also Saturday, Vail Resorts announced it will close its North American resorts – including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone – through March 22 out of “an abundance of caution” in protecting customers from infection. The operators of Winter Park and Steamboat Springs quickly followed Vail Resorts’ lead, and late Saturday evening, the governor issued an executive order closing all downhill ski resorts for one week “to slow the spread of COVID-19 and conserve medical resources in our mountain communities.”

The governor said in the order that Summit, Eagle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, home ground to many of the state’s ski resorts, have been particularly hard hit by the disease, with 39  — or nearly 40% — of the state’s total 101 presumptive positive COVID-19 cases as of March 14 among them.

“Medical centers in these areas have limited ability to meet the needs of individuals with COVID-19, Further strain on their resources creates a risk that medical personnel in the area will be unable to provide needed care to residents and visitors to our mountain communities,” the order said. 

“The challenges posed by are unique and place significant burdens on hospitals and medical personnel,” the executive order states. “We are aware of the great cost that mountain communities face if our downhill ski resorts close, even temporarily. These costs will be borne by local residents and businesses, and by the individuals and families who come to Colorado to enjoy our beautiful mountains and world-renowned skiing. But in the face of this pandemic emergency we cannot hesitate to protect public health and safety.”

COVID-19 cases by the numbers  

As of Saturday, March 14 at 12:45 p.m., there were 24 new cases of COVID-19 statewide for a total of 101 cases since the first was diagnosed last week, Colorado health officials reported. Of the 24 new cases, six were in Denver, four in Eagle County, three in Adams and Arapahoe counties, two in Jefferson and Gunnison counties, and one each in El Paso, Mesa, Pitkin and Weld counties.

Here is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s frequently updated summary with the number of presumptive positive cases in Colorado.

  • Presumptive Positive: 101
  • Negative: 712
  • Total number of people tested: 813

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced this morning that the agency is restricting all visitors at skilled nursing, assisted living and intermediate care facilities. The order is designed to protect the health of the residents and workers at those facilities, health officials said. Older people and people with underlying health conditions are considered vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We all have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us from contracting COVID-19,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. “It starts with staying isolated even if your symptoms are mild. We are all in this together, and we all have people we love who are particularly vulnerable — our parents, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles.”

The Colorado Department of Corrections is also suspending visitations to the state prisons unless you are an attorney representing a client there. Speaking of incarceration, public defenders sent a letter to the governor with a list of demands for how to help prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in Colorado’s jails. The list includes limiting arrests for low-level offenses and freeing people who are waiting in jail pretrial. We wrote on this request yesterday.

Lawmakers today passed a resolution to recess for two weeks amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Some are wondering if they will actually return in two weeks. Others are wondering if they have much of a choice with so much work left to do, such as passing a state budget.

March 13 update: Colorado’s first COVID-19 death 

At 3 p.m. on Friday, Colorado health officials reported the first death from COVID-19 in Colorado. The death occurred in a female in her 80s with underlying health conditions residing in El Paso County, according to health officials.

“While we were expecting this day, it doesn’t make it any less difficult to hear and share this news. As a state we are in mourning and our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of the Coloradan we lost,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a statement.

Last Thursday, Colorado found its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19.

During a news conference at the Capitol on Friday, Polis said there’s a shortage of medical professionals in Colorado. The nurses and doctors are needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

He said he’s calling on his administration to cut “red tape” so that medical professionals who are licensed in other states can be “immediately licensed in Colorado.” He said he’s activating the National Guard, too, to free up more than a dozen medics. He said he’s contracted with out-of-state nurses to help with communities hit the hardest, such as Pitkin County, where there is community spread. And he said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has authorized every EMT and paramedic in Colorado to administer the COVID-19 test.

The announcement comes as the new coronavirus pandemic continues its spread across Colorado and the globe. As of 5:45 a.m. on Friday, there are 77 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in Colorado, state health officials said. The governor told reporters at the Capitol on Friday eight people are hospitalized and three are in critical condition.

The governor is recommending the cancellation of gatherings of 250 people or more unless the venue can ensure some level of social distancing, which generally means people must have about six feet of space between them. Unlike other states, Polis has not ordered a statewide ban on large gatherings.

And state lawmakers on Friday drafted a resolution that would allow the General Assembly to recess starting Sunday until March 30. The resolution also would ask the state Supreme Court whether the two weeks off will count toward the 120-day session. Lawmakers want to know because there are still a number of high priority bills yet to be debated, included a paid family leave program, gun control, air quality measures, a “state option” insurance plan and a $30-plus billion state budget.

“We don’t want to go home,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg. “But we also want to make sure people are safe.” 

COVID-19 cases by the numbers  

As of Friday, March 13 at 5:30 p.m., the total cases of COVID-19 reached 77 in Colorado, health officials reported. Here is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s frequently updated summary with the number of presumptive positive cases in Colorado.

  • Presumptive Positive: 77
  • Negative: 530
  • Total number of people tested: More than 600

March 12 update: Colorado lawmakers prepare to recess

Colorado state lawmakers are preparing to take a recess this session as the coronavirus continues its anticipated spread across the state. 

But before lawmakers break, they want to pass a bill to allow parties to reschedule their county assemblies, during which hundreds of Democrats and Republicans gather to elect candidates to represent them in the primaries. The other option would be to have remote assembly participation. Lawmakers introduced an assembly bill Thursday afternoon and it is expected to pass by Saturday. 

Many questions remain over the possibility of taking a mid-session break, including how it will affect the passage of the $30-plus billion state budget. 

Speaking of the budget, the plummeting stock market portends a grim quarterly state economic forecast due to be released on Tuesday. The forecast could throw a number of Democratic policy priorities, including Gov. Jared Polis’s $27 million preschool expansion plan, into turmoil. 

“I think there is concern. … There’s undoubtedly going to be an effect on the revenue outlook,” Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City and vice chair of the Joint Budget Committee, told The Denver Post

Generally, there are some mixed thoughts on the coronavirus from those in the state Capitol. Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert applauded Polis’s emergency declaration and response to the pandemic, saying, “The governor has been appropriately hands-on.” Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from Greeley, agreed, but he also worried “we’re getting to the panic stage.” He insisted on shaking hands when a reporter approached him even as other bump elbows. 

Efforts to have people work remotely to help limit the spread of the new coronavirus is going to require a heavy reliance on the internet.

That’s why U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and 17 of his colleagues sent a letter to the CEOs of eight major internet service providers calling on them to suspend policies that could limit telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. The letter also asked them to provide free or at cost broadband for students affected by the virus.

Universities, including CU Boulder and Colorado State University, are calling off in-person classes across the country. K-12 schools in Colorado are also closing. 

In Denver’s City Hall, Mayor Michael Hancock declared a state of emergency for the city and county. The declaration could make more emergency services available and makes it easier for the city to obtain resources to address the new coronavirus. 

March 12 update: Drive-up lab experiencing high volumes

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s drive-up testing site was cut off Thursday after long lines created an approximate 3-hour wait. The lab opened yesterday and serviced about 160 people between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., health officials said. CDPHE plans to keep the lab open tomorrow and open again Monday and the state is considering other locations.

March 11 update: With likely community spread, Polis says warns of ‘tipping point’ 

With the number of cases of COVID-19 almost doubling Wednesday, March 11, Gov. Jared Polis held another press conference in which he said the state’s mountain resorts are being disproportionately affected and that the coronavirus likely has started passing from person-to-person, a phenomenon known as “community spread.”

“We are likely on the verge of a tipping point where we will see more community spread in the days and weeks ahead,” Polis said. In such cases, the people infected have not traveled internationally or been in known contact with someone who has the virus. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the state had logged 33 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Of the 33, nine are in Pitkin County and among a group of Australians visiting Aspen. So far, the state has tested about 300 people. 

The virus, Polis said, appears to have hit the state’s resort and mountain communities first, “not exclusively, but first.” He cautioned travelers older than 60 or who have chronic health conditions against traveling to the state’s high country due to the limited capacity of medical facilities and equipment. 

He also said the state will be closely monitoring the results of 160 samples taken Wednesday at the new drive-through testing station in Denver’s Lowry neighborhood. The results there, he said, will give the state health officials a much clearer picture of the virus’s prevalence. 

The governor also issued new guidance on the circumstances under which schools should close, and said he would be meeting with faith leaders to discuss protective measures among large congregations.

As he has in past press conferences, Polis reminded the public that most people will suffer only mild symptoms, but that, in carrying or potentially carrying the virus, all must practice good hygiene, social distancing and self-quarantine, if necessary. At one point, he said he had washed his hands with soap and water 11 times so far on Wednesday.

The government alone cannot contain the virus, he said: “What is required is individual response and action.”

There are, he said, “more difficult days ahead,” and people are scared and frustrated. “Those are normal feelings, but we need you to do your part to respond to this virus.”

He urged the federal government to expand and expedite testing. “Proper containment will required thousands or tens of thousands of people tested per day.”

March 10 update: Coronavirus is affecting just about everything 

Several advocacy groups canceled lobbying days at the state Capitol and lawmakers are considering whether to recess. CU-Boulder canceled in-person classes for the rest of the semester. The governor declared a state of emergency. And the World Health Organization announced a pandemic.

Even for those who don’t have it, coronavirus is changing the lives of many in Colorado and across the globe.

In the state’s first known case, a man in his 30s traveled to Italy in February before returning to his home in the U.S., Gov. Jared Polis said. On Feb. 29, he flew to the Denver International Airport, rented a car and drove up to a condo in Summit County. At that time, he was asymptomatic, Polis told reporters last week, meaning it is unlikely he spread the virus (this claim is not supported by our most recent understanding of the new coronavirus and how it spreads). On March 3, the man developed symptoms and went to the St Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. He was tested on March 4 and the state confirmed the test on Thursday. 

His fiancé and two friends are in quarantine and he is in isolation in Jefferson County. 

Even as the governor was preparing to hold a press conference last Thursday announcing that first case, the state confirmed another. Health officials said it involved an elderly female Douglas county resident who had returned to Colorado from international travel. She is currently isolated at her home, according to state health officials.

By Friday afternoon, Denver health officials said they had confirmed two additional cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Both people are in isolation, city officials said. St. Anne’s Episcopal School in Denver has closed because of potential exposure to COVID-19, state health officials said Friday.

Later, around 4 p.m. on March 6, El Paso County health officials reported a presumptive positive case of COVID-19 involving a man in his 40s who recently traveled to California. He is in quarantine.

And at 4:50 p.m., state health officials announced three more cases, bringing the total to eight people infected with the disease.

When cases test positive, the person and their close contacts, such as family members and roommates, are asked to voluntarily “isolate,” which means they have tested positive for COVID-19, or “quarantine” themselves when there is a suspected exposure, state health officials said. Public health agencies can issue quarantine and isolation orders requiring individuals to remain at home for a certain period of time, officials said. Two East High School students who came into contact with a family friend who tested positive for the virus are now in self-quarantine.

The cases are considered “presumptive” because they await an official confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control. That process takes up to 48 hours. The CDPHE’s lab as of Monday afternoon had run 296 tests for the virus, 284 of which are negative and 11 positive.  

The governor assured reporters last week that the state is prepared.

“At the end of the day we have a very robust health care system in this state,” he told reporters at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver on Thursday. He repeated the standard hygiene protocol: Wash your hands, don’t go to work if you’re feeling ill, and don’t get close to people who are coughing.

CDPHE officials also recommended keeping a 72-hour supply of medicine, infant formula, diapers and pet food. Further guidance, the department said, is available at Ready.gov. Also, people who have general questions about coronavirus can call CO HELP at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English and Spanish (Español), Mandarin (普通话), and more.

As of Monday, there have been more than 600 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 26 fatalities linked to the virus. At least 4,000 people have died across the globe since it was first reported in China. On Monday, Italy, hard-hit by the virus, announced it was restricting movement all across the country. 

There currently is no specific treatment for the virus. People can take fever medication. Those who develop pneumonia — which is how the virus can kill people —  may need to be placed on a ventilator.

The state’s Division of Insurance issued a directive on Monday, waiving the co-payments and other charges for those seeing a coronavirus test, but only if the patient’s insurance plan is with companies regulated by the state. If your insurance card has “CO-DOI” in the bottom corner, your plan is regulated by the state, the bulletin states. Otherwise, you’ll need to contact your employer.

The bulletin also spelled out three criteria that patients will have to meet to be tested. 

On March 5, Polis had not yet declared a state of emergency. 

“Coloradans get sick every day,” he said at last week’s press conference.  “And I don’t want anybody to panic because of this.” 

Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, discussed Colorado’s first two cases of coronavirus in Colorado on March 5, 2020. (Photo by John Herrick)

Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the department is hopeful that the patient will have a swift recovery.

“Like other states, we expected to begin seeing cases in Colorado and that is why we have been preparing for the past couple of months, in conjunction with local public health agencies and healthcare partners,” Hunsaker Ryan said in a statement.

“Our goals are to protect the public from the disease, get people the care they need, and minimize disruption to daily lives.”

This story was updated at 3:20 p.m. Monday. Tina Griego, John Herrick and Forest Wilson contributed to this report. 

John is a contributing writer for The Colorado Independent, covering energy, environment and criminal justice. Email him at Herrick.johnny(at)gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @herrickjohnny.
Forest is a freelance journalist originally from Washington. He settled in Denver five years ago. In the past, he was a reporter and news editor for MSU’s student paper — The Metropolitan — and studied Arabic and journalism in Egypt. You can follow him @foresttwilson on Twitter.

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