Colorado Coronavirus Updates For March 14-15: Residents and Visitors To High Country Advised To Minimize Contact

Copper Mountain parking lots partially emptyCopper Mountain parking lots partially emptyHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Copper Mountain's Alpine parking lot, left, is but the Far East lot across Hwy. 24 at right was empty at about 10:30 a.m. Saturday March 14, 2020. On a regular Saturday morning the lot would be full at this time.

This post collects all of our updates and reporting on the coronavirus in Colorado for the weekend, March 14-15, 2020. You can find Monday's liveblog here. Our original play-by-play of developments continues below.


Sunday's Updates

8:44 p.m. — State recommends canceling or postponing events over 50 people for the next eight weeks, following CDC guidelines

The state health department put out a brief memo this evening, encouraging Coloradans to follow new CDC guidelines. They recommend, "for the next eight weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”

3:36 p.m. — CDPHE strongly advises all visitors and residents of Eagle, Summit, Pitkin, and Gunnison counties to minimize social contact

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment on Sunday strongly advised all residents — and visitors in the past week — of Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties to minimize their contact with other people, whether or not they are experiencing symptoms, in order to reduce the spread of the virus.

Gov. Jared Polis confirmed on Wednesday that the new coronavirus has spread in the high country without being detected by public health workers.

2:00 p.m. — 30 more people test positive for COVID-19 Sunday

The number of positive cases of coronavirus has grown to 131 in Colorado, according to state health officials on Sunday. The test results include 25 from the state lab and 5 from private testing facilities that are receiving samples from health care providers. The state lab has tested 758 people since testing started on Feb. 28.

Denver and Eagle counties have the highest number of cases in the state with 25 and 24 respectively.

Coronavirus FAQ: What You Need To Know Today

5:50 a.m. — Polis Closes all Ski Resorts

It started with the state's largest ski resort management companies, then trickled down to the smaller ones. By the end of the day Saturday, they were all closed.

Gov. Jared Polis issued an extraordinary executive order Saturday night closing all downhill ski resorts for a week to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"Never would I have believed that a global pandemic would force the temporary closure of our world-class ski resorts," Polis wrote. "It is with a profound sense of pain and grim responsibility that I take the agonizing action that this moment demands. I take solace in knowing that while we will be temporarily closed for business, we will be saving the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Coloradans in the days and weeks ahead.”

Polis's order notes that the mountain counties of Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Gunnison have all been hit hard by the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Eagle and Pitkin, with 20 and 11 positive cases respectively, have some of the highest infection rates in the nation, due in part to the spread of the illness among groups that came to Colorado for skiing.

Part of the governor's rationale was that further spread of the illness would have a particularly hard impact on the medical resources in the mountain communities. The executive order requires closure for a week, but notes that it could be longer.

"We will continue to monitor the course of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state and may amend this executive order accordingly."

Saturday's Updates

4:35 p.m. — Vail Resorts Shutters North American Skiing for at Least Eight Days

Vail Resorts, which operates Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge among 37 resorts, announced that they would be shutting down ski operations from Sunday, March 15 through Sunday, March 22, and possibly longer.

"This decision provides a pause for the entire ecosystem of our mountain resort communities," wrote CEO Rob Katz in a letter posted on the company's website. "It gives everyone the time to assess the situation, respond to ever-changing developments, and evaluate the approach for the rest of season, if we believe it is advisable or feasible to re-open."

A short time later, Alterra Mountain Company, which operates Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and 13 other resorts and operations in the U.S. and Canada announced that they would shut down too "until further notice." That closure also begins Sunday, March 15.

Katz wrote that employees would continue to be paid during the eight-day period and lodging, property management and the shuttle from Denver International Airport would continue to operate to service guests who have existing reservations. But the company will not accept any reservations for the eight-day period.

"Please know that this has been a fast-moving, constantly developing situation with new information from our communities coming to us by the day, if not by the hour, and we are trying to react as quickly as we can," Katz wrote. "We understand the challenges this creates, but our priority is to minimize any additional issues from operating in further uncertainty and to avoid potential crowding."

Retail stores and restaurants at the resorts will also be closed for at least the next eight days.

Gov. Jared Polis praised the company for making the decision.

“I commend Vail Resorts for taking this difficult, responsible step and urge other mountains and resorts to do the same," Polis said in a statement issued just before 5 p.m. "Coloradans and our business community must continue to rise to meet the demand of these challenging times and everyone must do their part in stopping the spread of this virus.”

The statement said lift tickets purchased for the eight-day period are eligible for refunds as are unused days in lodging reservations in properties owned by Vail Resorts during that period. Vail Resorts is also waiving cancellation fees for any hotel lodging booked by international travelers through May 31.

More information can be found on the resort websites.

Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory asked for patience as the company works through refunding hotel and other bookings.

"Each resort will work directly with guests in canceling their visit and will provide refunds to those who have hotel and other bookings during this closure period," Gregory wrote. "We anticipate heavy call volume over the next several days and appreciate guests’ patience as we work hard to respond to all inquiries."

A 2015 report by the industry estimated the economic impact of skiing on Colorado at $4.8 billion annually, with the equivalent of 46,000 year-round jobs.

3:00 p.m. — El Paso County man has recovered from COVID-19, county health officals say

One man in El Paso County who tested positive for COVID-19 has fully recovered and tested negative for the virus, said Robin Johnson, medical director for El Paso County Public Health.

That leaves one known person in the county who has tested presumptive positive for coronavirus.

On Friday, a woman in her 80s died at a UCHealth Memorial Hospital. Before she died, she came in contact with around 100 people while playing games at the Colorado Springs Bridge Center in late February and early March, Johnson said. The county is still working to contact all of the people who may have been around her and were exposed to the virus.

"Due to the high number of interactions she had, we need the community's help in getting this message out," Johnson said during a news conference in Colorado Springs.

The known presumptive positive case in El Paso County is a man who played bridge with the woman who died.

2:00 p.m. — Health officials warn Colorado Springs residents about possible COVID-19 exposure after a woman died Friday

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

State health officials said a woman who died at a Colorado Springs hospital Friday attended bridge games at the Colorado Springs Bridge Center. That Bridge Center has since closed through March.

The list of dates and games the woman played at the center is below:

  • Feb. 27 - Thursday Evening Unit Pairs
  • Feb. 28 - Friday Morning Pairs
  • Feb. 29 - 299er Pair
  • Feb. 29 - 299er Pairs
  • March 1 - 299er Swiss
  • March 3 - 499'rs

People who played games at the center on these dates and who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, like a fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, should contact their health care provider immediately, health officials said.

1:00 p.m. — Lawmakers officially suspend work for two weeks, marking a historic pause

The Colorado legislature suspended it's work for at least two weeks, amid the growing coronavirus pandemic. In a historic first for the state, the House and Senate approved the temporary halt to their work on a voice vote.

Legislative leaders said if necessary they could return to the state capitol and vote to extend the break. 

— Bente Birkeland

12:00 p.m. — 24 more people test presumptive positive for COVID-19 Saturday

The number of presumptive positive cases of coronavirus has grown to 101 in Colorado, according to state health officials on Saturday. Of the 813 people tested, 712 cases tested negative. On Friday, there were 77 presumptive positive cases.

Denver and Eagle counties have the highest number of cases in the state with 20 and 18 respectively. Mesa County reported its first presumptive positive case Saturday.

Experts and Gov. Jared Polis say we can expect the number to grow, rapidly now, partly because the number of infected people is growing, but also because the state's testing capacity is improving. Experts warn to focus on the trend, not the number, with the hope that, as time passes, the number will flatten, then fall.

9:00 a.m. — Pitkin County stops testing for COVID-19

The Aspen Times reports health officials in Pitkin County have stopped testing individuals for coronavirus because of a lack of resources. Experts said testing doesn't treat the virus and people with flu-like symptoms should stay home for 14 days.

7:00 a.m. — The House passes an aid package to help with financial impacts of the coronavirus.

The funding includes free coronavirus testing, a measure introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette and emergency paid sick leave.

"No one should worry about how they are going to pay for this test, and we can't afford to have people hesitating to come forward if they are sick because of its cost." DeGette said.

Rep. Ken Buck was the only "No" vote out of Colorado's House delegation. He called it a "multi-billion dollar boondoggle." Many other Republican representatives voted in support of the bill after Trump tweeted his support.