The number of COVID-19 cases in Colorado grew dramatically overnight, as did the seriousness.
Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday morning that there have now been 72 cases of COVID-19 discovered in Colorado, up from 49 on Thursday. At least four are evidence of community spread in the Denver metro area.
Eight people are hospitalized in Colorado, and three are in critical condition, Polis said.
“It is just a matter of time until we have our first fatality here in Colorado,” he said. “The good news is over 90 percent of people we’ve tested have tested negative (for COVID-19).”
Polis announced he was "issuing guidance" encouraging cancelation of large public gatherings of over 250 people “unless they can successfully take steps” to limit contact between people to six feet.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock later declared a public health emergency and banned events at city-owned facilities, including Red Rocks, through April 12.
Polis's action follows several counties and cities that began banning large public events. On March 12, Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties prohibited gatherings and events of more than 50 people.
“Gatherings of more than 50 attendees are prohibited, unless measures are taken by event organizers to minimize risk,” according to a joint statement issued by the counties.
Many metro-area school districts, including Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, announced they would close for periods up to three weeks starting today or Monday.
On March 10, Polis declared a state of emergency for Colorado, which makes more resources available. Polis directed the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to offer paid sick leave for service and hospitality workers, or an estimated 15 percent of the state’s 3.1 million workers. And drive-up laboratories are starting to open around the state to serve patients whose doctors said they meet certain criteria for testing for COVID-19.
Polis said his administration remains focused on expanding the number of tests available and being conducted in the state in order to get those who test positive into isolation.
"We are a leader in testing," Polis said, noting that the Colorado number is equivalent to about 10 percent of the number conducted nationally. "But it's far from enough."
With somewhere around 1,000 tests completed on about 600 people through Thursday, (the state has not recently released the number of actual tests completed), Colorado has tested just a fraction of the number tested in Washington state, for example, where nearly 5,000 tests had been conducted through Thursday.
Polis said Colorado is on the verge of a “tipping point.” He said there are likely thousands more cases than the 72 identified, but those people have not had access to a test or are waiting for results.
He said a lack of testing “has hampered our ability to avoid mass disruption to our lives and economy.
“I’ve personally shared my frustrations with the vice president,” he continued.
Polis said he would order the state to expedite licensing of new medical professionals and asked medical professionals who might be retired or are in a different profession to reconnect with their prior employer to supplement the state’s health cares systems if and when medical professionals are diagnosed with COVID-19.
“We need to backfill those positions,” he said.
Polis has activated the National Guard, which includes a dozen medics who are practicing to provide additional training capacity. He said community medical providers are being trained on setting up their own mobile labs like the one in Denver’s Lowry neighborhood.
But it's the large events ban that might be most immediately felt, depending on its duration, which Polis did not lay out Friday.
Events at the 76,125-capacity Empower Field at Mile High, the largest venue in Denver, included a motocross rally on April 4, the Bacon and Beer Classic on May 9 and Global Dance Festival July 10 and 11. Kenny Chesney, who was supposed to perform at Empower on August 8, has postponed his tour.
The Pepsi Center can hold 18,007 people and is usually jam-packed with sports games and concerts through the spring. Prior to the governor’s announcement, all events had been postponed through March 25, including a Blake Shelton concert Saturday night and Celine Dion on March 24.
The next events to possibly be impacted are concerts by The Eagles set for March 26 and 28. Professional sports leagues, including the NBA, NHL, MLB and National Lacrosse League, have suspended their seasons, canceling or postponing all Avalanche, Nuggets, Rockies and Colorado Mammoth games.