Colorado Coronavirus Updates For March 17: Closures, Testing, Cases And More

· Mar. 17, 2020, 6:22 am
Jesse Lopez works at Twin Parishes food pantry in Cole on March 17, 2020, the first time they've had to distribute meals outside in 40 years.Jesse Lopez works at Twin Parishes food pantry in Cole on March 17, 2020, the first time they've had to distribute meals outside in 40 years.Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Jesse Lopez works at Twin Parishes food pantry in Cole on March 17, 2020, the first time they've had to distribute meals outside in 40 years.

This post collects all of our reporting and updates on the coronavirus in Colorado for Tuesday, March 17, 2020. If you are looking for the latest updates for Wednesday, you'll find them right here. Our original play-by-play continues below.

9:01 p.m. — Goodnight live blog

Here are some stories that are not about COVID-19.

And here is a thing I've been doing a lot while social distancing: playing fetch with my cat.

8:16 p.m. — At the Cherry Cricket in Denver, bracing for economic downturn

The Cherry Cricket is one of a half dozen restaurants operated by Breckenridge-Wynkoop Holdings, which operates a half dozen restaurants around the state. The company had to furlough about 500 employees on Monday, March 16, after Gov. Jared Polis mandated an end to dining-in at restaurants and bars. Now the restaurant is only serving take-out and curb-side orders during the coronavirus outbreak.

— Hart Van Denburg

7:53 p.m. — Rep. Jason Crow will also go into self-quarantine

Just hours after Sen. Cory Gardner announced he was going into self-quarantine, Rep. Jason Crow announced he would also isolate himself after contact with a constituent who had tested positive for coronavirus.

"We have a personal responsibility as citizens to do everything we can to contain the spread of coronavirus," Crow said in a statement. "Even though I have no symptoms, we have to treat any possible exposure with the utmost caution and for that reason, I will self-quarantine."

— Alex Scoville

6:52 p.m. — It's March. Everything is canceled. Do the Denverite social distancing bracket

Fill out your bracket here, and enjoy.

6:21 p.m. — A resident and a staff member at a Loveland long-term care facility for seniors tested positive for coronavirus

The North Shore Health & Rehab Facility run by Columbine Health Systems has both a resident and an employee who tested positive for coronavirus.

It’s the first confirmed cases at a long-term care facility in Colorado. That’s concerning because seniors appear to be particularly susceptible to this strain of coronavirus. In Seattle, as many as two dozen deaths have been linked to a single nursing home.

Read the full story here.

5:34 p.m. — Gardner will self-quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19

Sen. Cory Gardner will self-quarantine after having a meeting with a Colorado constituent who later tested positive for the new coronavirus.

"The health and safety of Coloradans and Americans across the nation is my top priority, and I will continue working to make sure Congress provides the resources needed to help combat the spread of COVID-19,” Gardner said in a statement.

5:02 p.m. — CU Boulder cancels commencement ceremonies

Coronavirus CU Boulder Cancels In-Person ClassesHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Signs advising CU Boulder students at the University Memorial Center Wednesday, March 11, 2020 to wash their hands in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

The University of Colorado Boulder will not hold any commencement ceremonies for the graduating class of 2020.

In a statement, chancellor Philip DiStefano said the university was looking into virtual options for the event.

CU Boulder has moved classes online for the duration of the spring semester and is requesting students in university housing go home if they're able.

— Alex Scoville

4:36 p.m. — The Colorado Supreme Court will hear the question of when the 2020 state legislative session can end

The Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to take up the question of whether state lawmakers can extend the end date of Colorado's annual legislative session.

Colorado's Constitution requires the legislative session to last 120 days, which would have put the last day of this year's session on May 6.

But that was before state lawmakers decided to temporarily halt their work to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Democrats argue that because the governor declared a state of emergency, this two-week pause could be added onto the sessions’s normal end date. Republicans say the constitution requires the session to end May 6, regardless of how long a break lawmakers take.

— Bente Birkeland

4:34 p.m. — The Brown Palace's piano player of 33 years is temporarily out of the job

Ryan Warner/CPR News
The Brown Palace's long-time piano player John Kite is temporarily out of a job as the hotel's bar and restaurant close due to coronavirus.

John Kite has been the piano player at The Brown Palace for the last 33 years.

But for at least the next 8 weeks — while Denver’s bars and dining rooms are closed — he’s out of a gig.

Kite teared up as he described his love for the patrons he meets and the people he works with during tea in the lobby and dinner at The Ship Tavern. But he is still optimistic.

“I think that when Denver comes back, when we’re over this, it’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be strong. I think it’s gonna be really strong," he said."

And what song are customers most likely to request? Moon River. 

— Ryan Warner

4:28 p.m. — Rocky Mountain National Park will stay open, but close visitor centers and cancel events

You can still social distance yourself in the great outdoors, but Rocky Mountain National Park is curbing some activities.

While the park will remain open, the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, Fall River Visitor Center and Kawuneeche Visitor Center will all close until further notice. Events and programs are also canceled.

Also, did you know RMNP has live webcams? Well, they do, and it's a great way to soak in some views that aren't your home office wall.

The view from the Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitors Center webcam.

— Alex Scoville

4:14 p.m. — You asked: Don't far more people get, and die from, the seasonal flu each year?

Yes. Well, so far, anyway. In the U.S. alone this season, the seasonal flu has sickened as many as 49 million people and killed as many as 52,000, according to the CDC. That's obviously a lot more than COVID-19.

The difference is that the health community has tools to control the spread of the various strains of seasonal flu. There is a vaccine that may not be 100 percent effective, but can prevent pandemic-level spread. In addition to that, people have some immunity to the seasonal flu. No such containment exists for COVID-19.

Scientists don't yet know nearly as much about this coronavirus as they know about the seasonal flu. Early research on the outbreak in Wuhan, China found a higher death rate than the seasonal flu, although it seemed to drop as medical care caught up. Still, COVID-19's mortality rate is unknown and more research is needed.

Got more questions? We got more answers.

4:09 p.m. — Someone put masks on Grand Junction's iconic Main Street sculptures

But are they practicing social distancing?

Stina Sieg/CPR News
The James Dalton Trumbo sculpture in downtown Grand Junction with a mask on.
Stina Sieg/CPR News
The "Girl on Bike" sculpture in downtown Grand Junction with a mask on.
Stina Sieg/CPR News
The "Shell Boys" water fountain sculpture in downtown Grand Junction with masks on.

— Alex Scoville and Stina Sieg

3:47 p.m. — As businesses close, Small Business Administration disaster loans aren't available (yet)

Federal disaster loans through the Small Business Administration may open up as early as the end of this week in Colorado to help businesses faced with shutdowns due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Thousands of businesses closed their doors today in Colorado to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Governor Jared Polis ordered the unprecedented closure of bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, and casinos yesterday. The governor’s medical experts reviewed data that showed social distancing strategies could have a profound impact on the spread of COVID-19 

Those businesses may be eligible for the disaster loans, which are low interest and can have flexible repayment terms. But the SBA isn’t yet ready to accept applications for disaster loans related to coronavirus.

“The Colorado District Office for the SBA is working very closely with the Governor’s Office on the declaration process,” said Stephen Collier, a spokesman for the Colorado District Office. “There is a very prescribed process for this particular program and the Governor’s Office is working diligently to get this done. Once Colorado is approved, it will be widely communicated.”

Governor Polis’s office says they’re working on getting the proper disaster designations for all counties to open up the SBA loans.

“Given COVID-19’s impact on the entirety of the state, it was essential to engage counties across Colorado to secure documentation that allows Governor Polis to advance all of the state as a disaster area,” said Glenn Plagens, director of business support and rural prosperity. “The completed forms are being turned over to the Office of Emergency Management for submission which allows Governor Polis to make the declaration this week.”

SBA officials said an approval could come as early as this week of Colorado can get the proper paperwork in.

— Ben Markus

3:36 p.m. — Second coronavirus death in Colorado

A male in his 70s has died due to COVID-19 in Weld County, health officials confirmed on Tuesday.

“Protecting our high-risk populations from COVID-19 is imperative,” said Mark E. Wallace, executive director of the Weld County Health Department. “We are strongly suggesting people practice social distancing in order to prevent future COVID-19 deaths and protect our workforce. Every single reduction in the number of contacts you have per day will have a significant impact on the virus’s spread.”

— Alex Scoville

3:06 p.m. — More on Colorado's unprecedented unemployment spike

Coronavirus Summit County Copper ClosedHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Copper Mountain posted “closed” signs Sunday March 15, 2020.

A surge in unemployment claims came as Gov. Jared Polis ordered a temporary shutdown of ski resorts and restaurants — measures that health experts say will slow the spread of the virus and minimize the chances that hospitals are overwhelmed.

Daily data shows a sharp rise in unemployment claims amid the pandemic. For comparison, the state received only about 400 unemployment claims on Monday, March 9.

A week later, the state reported 3,900 claims in one day.

And on Tuesday, there were a staggering 6,800 claims by 10 a.m.

Read the full story here.

— Andy Kenney

2:58 p.m. — These photos of an empty DIA are spooky

— Hart Van Denburg

2:15 p.m. — Kaiser is making unprecedented changes to focus on the coronavirus outbreak

John Daley/CPR News
The Kaiser Permanente facility in Lone Tree, Colo.

Kaiser Permanente, the state’s largest nonprofit health plan, announced a sweeping list of changes Tuesday as it moves to respond to the coronavirus outbreak that continues to swirl around Colorado and the globe.

The medical group will expand telehealth and virtual care, consolidate medical offices, ramp up remote test sites, and take another major step: postpone elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures. This is to ensure Kaiser has the capacity and equipment to care for a surge in more critically ill patients.

“I would say this situation is unprecedented,” said Amy Duckro, an infectious disease specialist who is helping lead Kaiser’s COVID-19 response in Colorado. She called the reaction a big departure “from what all of us are normally accustomed to doing in healthcare."

"We've been forced to become more fluid, more dynamic, being able to pivot and, and change course rapidly," Duckro said.

Kaiser is one of the state’s biggest medical groups, with more than 1,200 physicians, more than 620,000 patients (also called members) and 29 medical offices around Colorado.

In Colorado there are 160 positive cases and one death. Kaiser’s move follows a series of dramatic steps by Gov. Jared Polis to fight the fast-moving virus.

On Monday the governor issued a public health order that shut down broad swaths of public life, including ending in-person dining in restaurants for 30 days. (The eateries can keep serving meals for delivery or carry-out.) The emergency order applies to "all bars, restaurants, theaters, gymnasiums and casinos in Colorado" as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Over the weekend, the governor decided to shut down the state's ski resorts.

As the coronavirus situation rapidly progresses, demands across the entire health system are straining supplies, equipment and people.

“The main message we want to communicate to our employees and also to all of our members is that safety and health are our primary concerns during this situation,” Duckro said. “We are working very hard to make sure that we can continue to execute care in the best way possible.”

Kaiser is also looking to ramp up and expand its testing of patients identified by a doctor as potentially having the virus. It currently has two drive-up test centers in Lone Tree and Lakewood Lakewood for Kaiser members who were previously screened for and determined to need a COVID-19 test.

“We are looking at having testing sites across the state, based on geographic need and location and demand," Duckro said. “Our tests will still be recommended by a physician. So there will not be walk-up testing."

That would make Kaiser's testing sites unlike those in Denver and Lowry last week that drew long lines.

— John Daley

1:38 p.m. — Bennet and Gardner ask for extra support for rural and tribal communities

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner want the federal government to help rural and tribal communities respond to the new coronavirus outbreak.

They’ve sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior requesting they coordinate their staffs and support those communities.

They argue that the civil servants working within these organizations — such as the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service, both overseen by the Department of the Interior — are well suited to partner with these communities as they struggle with this public health crisis.

“Rural communities are working to set up local emergency operation centers to help manage their response, but face challenges with limited staff capacity,” the letter states. “Across many of our states, rural counties are experiencing outbreaks and some communities are already overwhelmed with the challenge.”

— Caitlyn Kim

1:32 p.m. — Unemployment claims in Colorado are rising dramatically

During a call with the Colorado Department of Labor on Tuesday afternoon, state officials laid out a spike in unemployment claims as the new coronavirus takes hold of Colorado's economy.

Outdoor industry, food service, food handling and air transportation are being hit the hardest.

"Never before in Colorado have we had such a high volume of impacted workers," CDLE executive director Joe Barela said.

— Andy Kenney

12:48 p.m. — New cases confirm community spread in Boulder County

In a statement, public health officials in Boulder County announced four additional COVID-19 cases, which brings the county total to 11 people.

Two of the recently tested had not left the county, confirming community spread versus cases that involved international travel or visits to the Colorado high country. Five of the county's 11 cases reported exposures in the mountains.

“We are at the most critical phase,” said Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health director said in a statement. “Never before has it been more important to heed the call to keep distance from others outside of your household as much as you can and avoid meeting in groups larger than 10 people.”

— Jim Hill

12:27 p.m. — Social distancing and public health orders have crimped nightlife, but we can still get some music in our lives

If you're like many of CPR's employees at this time, you're working from home (if you can) and finding yourself in need of some distraction. One of my coworkers had set their status to "singing Bowie" and that got me thinking about concerts. Prohibitions against large gatherings have shuttered the concert scene in the Denver area and restaurants and bars are trying to cope with the restrictions too.

So what can a live music junkie do? NPR Music has a solution. They're keeping an updated list of online virtual concert streams. Everything from The Dropkick Murphy's to opera like Die Walküre.

— Jim Hill

11:41 a.m. — From the 'I'd rather be fishing' files...

11:14 a.m. — Question: I have travel plans, should I keep them?

That depends on where you are going, as well as your health and age. The CDC recommends older adults and people with serious health conditions avoid all nonessential travel right now. There are currently "Level 3" alerts in place for China, Iran, South Korea and much of Europe. The CDC recommends that you avoid non-essential travel to any of those places. If you do go there, wash your hands frequently, avoid anyone who appears sick and self-quarantine for 14 days in your home upon your return.

Direct resources:

— Kate Schimel, Jim Hill

10:41 a.m. — Department of Education suspends end-of-year testing

The Colorado Department of Education announced Tuesday that all end-of-year assessments are paused for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

CDE is working with The College Board for possible solutions to administer PSAT and SAT tests. The move is meant to allow schools and districts to continue to teach students to the extent they are able during this widespread disruption.

— Taylor Allen

10:32 a.m. — Understanding the slow push to expand Colorado's testing capacity

Difficulties expanding the state's capacity to test for the novel coronavirus has Gov. Jared Polis and doctors — and regular Coloradans — frustrated.

Reporters Allison Sherry and John Daley dug into the whys and wherefores in a story today, but we're also regularly breaking down dense news like this on our Twitter feed. To get a better look at this story, click the thread below — and follow us @CPRNews for more like this in the coming days.

10:08 a.m. — People lined up before dawn for a chance to shop resupplied shelves

Coronavirus Shoppers Line Up Before Dawn At King SoopersHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Shoppers line up before dawn outside a King Soopers supermarket on Quebec Street in Denver Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

Shoppers started lining up outside the King Soopers on Quebec Street in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood before dawn — and well before the posted opening time of 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

Like other grocery stores, King Soopers has adjusted its hours during the coronavirus outbreak, cutting back from being open 18-24 hours in most locations to 7 a.m.-8 p.m. The company says the move allows employees to better restock shelves and keep its stores, carts and other amenities clean. It helps helps employees manage the disruption to their own lives.

When this store opened Tuesday morning many of those in line outside made a beeline for the paper good aisle, where they queued in another line overseen by a store employee to put toilet paper and other paper products in their carts. Outside and inside, the mood was mostly calm as people waited their turns.

Elsewhere in the store, most of the shelves appeared fully stocked, with the exception of the by-now familiar sight of slim pickings around disinfectant and sanitizers.

— Hart Van Denburg

9:01 a.m. — Live briefing by members of the coronavirus task force

Members of the national coronavirus task force are expected to give a live press briefing beginning at 9:30 a.m. MDT. Watch it live below:

8:38 a.m. — Vail Resorts may consider reopening Breckenridge but is otherwise ending its season

Vail Resorts has closed all of its North American resorts in response to the coronavirus outbreak including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte. The resorts and retail shops are closed now, but hotels and other lodgings will close on Friday, March 20, with the last check-ins being accepted today.

The company said it would consider reopening Breckenridge in late April or early May depending on weather and how the public health situation plays out.

“Our decision to end the season now is evidence of the fast-moving situation involving COVID-19, and it was not an easy one to make as we deeply considered the extended impact it will have on our guests, employees and communities,” said Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, in a statement. “While it is incredibly disappointing for our Company to mark the end of the season so early, we know it is the most responsible path forward.”

An online form is expected to be available later today on the Vail Resorts website for guests to request refunds and credits.

Loveland, Steamboat, Telluride and Monarch Mountain Resorts are closed for the season too.

All ski resorts in Colorado have already been shut down temporarily by a Saturday night order from Gov. Jared Polis.

— Daniel J. Schneider

8:08 a.m. — Western Slope JUCO tourney canceled

The coronavirus has now forced the cancellation of this year's Junior College World Series in Grand Junction. It was scheduled to happen the last week in May. The city has hosted the JUCO tournament for the past 60 years. It normally brings in thousands of visitors, making it a significant contributor to Grand Junction's economy.

Read more at the Grand Junction Sentinel.

— Megan Verlee

7:44 a.m. — Wall Street is in a better mood

Stocks are opening broadly higher on Wall Street Tuesday, a day after plunging to their worst loss in more than three decades. The Dow industrials added 150 points, or 0.7 percent, a day after dropping nearly 3,000.

Markets are continuing to whipsaw because of uncertainty over how badly the coronavirus will hit the economy. Several economists say the global recession has already begun as large swaths of the economy shut down due to the virus. NPR has more on the markets.

— The Associated Press

6:34 a.m. — Statewide order against dine-in seating at restaurants, bars kicks in today

Shortly after Denver ordered that bars and restaurants close their seating areas and only offer drive-thru, takeout and delivery service, Gov. Jared Polis followed suit for the state. The public health order is effective as of 8:00 a.m. today and allows restaurants to continue to serve meals for delivery or carry-out, but not for in-person dining. It will stay in place for at least 30 days.

It's not just restaurants, the emergency order applies to "all bars, restaurants, theaters, gymnasiums and casinos in Colorado" as a means to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Over the weekend, the governor had already made the decision to shut down the state's ski resorts. Both industries represent a significant chunk of the state economy. Forecasters already project that there will be a $750 million bite out of the next state budget.

Gunnison County has taken further measures. Officials there on Monday released an order prohibiting groups of 10 or more people from gathering in public places. The order applies to bars, restaurants, childcare centers and a host of other sites. Summit County is also taking similar steps.

— Jim Hill & Andrew Villegas

6:22 a.m. — Colorado has 160 cases of COVID-19

As NPR reports, since the first case of the coronavirus in the United States was identified on Jan. 21 in Washington state health officials have identified thousands of cases across the nation. In Colorado alone, there are 160 positive cases.

The test the state performs is identical to the test done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so Colorado tests are no longer considered presumptive positive. The CDC isn't performing confirmational testing.

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