Colorado Coronavirus Updates For March 18: Closures, Testing, Cases And More

Restaurants Offer To-Go Menus During Coronavirus Outbreak
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Gov. Jared Polis put a 30-day order in place to stop restaurants and bars from offering dine-in services during the coronavirus outbreak. Many restaurants are offering to-go menus during that time, including Neighbors in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood.

This post gathers all of our reporting and updates on the coronavirus in Colorado for Wednesday, March 18, 2020. You can find the latest reporting for Thursday here. Our original play-by-play of reporting continues below.

8:50 p.m. — G'night live blog

Here are some stories that aren't about coronavirus:

May these four players from the Colorado Symphony's horn section practicing together remotely give you a moment of joy.

7:04 p.m. — Who can apply for unemployment?

Unemployment benefits are available to people who lose their jobs or suffer a significant reduction in hours or pay through “no fault of their own."

Many who have been laid off as a result of COVID-19 will be eligible, but there are a lot of variables. Experts’ general advice is to apply and see what happens — but don’t count on receiving unemployment, especially for more complex work situations.

“Go ahead and file it and let them make a determination. You have a right to file ... an unemployment claim,” said employment attorney Ralph Torres. “Whether you get it is a different story.”

We answer that unemployment question and many more here.

— Andy Kenney

5:51 p.m. — What's your ideal COVID-19 care package look like?

5:40 p.m. — ICE will adjust its enforcement strategies during the COVID-19 outbreak

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Wednesday it would immediately change its focus to "public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds."

The agency also promised not to carry out arrests at or near health care facilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Update 7:56 p.m.: Read more about the changes for ICE on NPR.

— Alex Scoville

5:19 p.m. — A temporary testing site will open in Pueblo

State health officials are opening a temporary COVID-19 testing site in Pueblo on Thursday, March 19.

As of Wednesday evening there has been only one known case of the new coronavirus in Pueblo County, but health officials say that is in part due to there hasn't been as much testing done in the area.

The site is only serving high-risk patients who pre-selected, so no walk- or drive-ups will be tested.

The Colorado National Guard and Pueblo health department will help operate the site.

— Alex Scoville

5:14 p.m. — RTD sees big ridership declines, but is yet to make reductions

Quiet DIA During Coronavirus
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A pair of transit police wait for the departure of the A Line commuter rail train from DIA to downtown Denver on Tuesday afternoon, March 17, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. The train had very passengers.

RTD says it’s seen a ridership drop of about 60 percent over fears of the novel coronavirus. 

The transit agency is providing about 139,000 trips each weekday now, compared to nearly 350,000 at this time last year. That estimate is based on informal counts by RTD staff, the agency said in a release Wednesday.

That’s likely causing a big hit to RTD’s bottom line. Interim General Manager and CEO Paul Ballard told CPR News last week the agency has enough money in reserves to keep operations going for six to 12 weeks.

But RTD has yet to announce any changes to its bus and train services. One RTD board member, Shontel Lewis, has pushed the agency’s leadership to start making reductions now — and eventually shutting down temporarily. She also wants RTD to stop forcing drivers to work overtime. 

“Let’s stop subjecting our operators to these terrible working conditions when there are no riders to provide service to,” she wrote in a letter to the board and senior staff. 

The agency did say Wednesday it will suspend five-day advanced bookings on its paratransit service because it's seen so many cancelations in recent weeks. Effective Thursday, customers will only be able to book next-day trips.

The RTD board is set to meet next Tuesday. 

5:00 p.m. — There are now 216 known positive cases in Colorado

New numbers from the state health department on Wednesday show an increase of 33 positive test results, making Colorado's statewide total now 216.

Colorado ran 600 tests since yesterday as it ramps up its testing abilities.

Denver and Eagle counties still lead the number of cases: 43 and 39, respectively.

4:36 p.m. — Unemployment claims continue to skyrocket

Tens of thousands of Coloradans have submitted unemployment applications in the past few days alone.

That trend continued to rise again today.

For comparison, the state received only about 400 unemployment claims on Monday, March 9.

We wrote more about the unprecedented wave of unemployment due to COVID-19 here.

— Andy Kenney

4:23 p.m. — Parents, can we get a vibe check?

If you too have yodeling six-year-old, we probably can't fix that, but we do have some recommendations.

(And if you haven't heard it today: you parents are everyday heroes right now. Pretty much every day, really.)

— Alex Scoville

3:17 p.m. — As college kids head home, empty nests are no longer so empty

Courtesy Andrea Dukakis
Andrea and her daughter Jobie, a freshman in college, at the assembly right before saying goodbye.

It took awhile, but eventually, CPR reporter Andrea Dukakis and her husband adjusted to a home without their son and daughter after they both went off to college.

And then the otherworldly messages and emails started arriving.

That college was basically canceled. (What do they mean by online classes?)

That everyone was going to be coming home. What?

Read the full essay here.

— Andrea Dukakis

3:11 p.m. — Weiser asks debt collectors to "exercise restraint"

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser put out a request on Wednesday to creditors: stop your debt collecting efforts for now, please.

Weiser pointed out that other service and utility companies have already made moves to suspend disconnections and fees.

"To the extent that such providers can work proactively with borrowers to help them best manage their situation, they will join other businesses taking responsible and compassionate efforts to lessen the impact of this crisis," he said in a statement.

— Alex Scoville

2:58 p.m. — Bennet may have had contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, but he won't be self-quarantining

Hayley Sanchez / CPR News
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaks at a town hall in Littleton on Feb. 18, 2020.

Soon after Rep. Jason Crow and Sen. Cory Gardner entered self-imposed quarantines following interaction with constituents who tested positive for COVID-19, Sen. Michael Bennet received a similar notification.

The Democratic senator consulted with Congress' attending physician, who determined he does not need to self-quarantine. Bennet will still monitor his health and generally isolate at his home and office, according to a statement.

— Alex Scoville

2:52 p.m. — Vail Health warns actual number of coronavirus cases is in the "hundreds if not thousands" in the region

Ashley Dean/Denverite
The back bowls at Vail Ski Resort.

A nonprofit community health care system in Eagle and Summit counties — two hot spots for COVID-19 in Colorado — is warning that the number of cases in the region is much higher than what is known.

"In just a week, we’ve gone from 7 to over 50 confirmed COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases. The real number of local cases in the Eagle River Valley is more likely hundreds if not thousands of people," said Will Cook, president and CEO of Vail Health, in a statement. "It is everywhere here; we just don’t have the test results to prove it, and we won’t anytime soon.

Colorado's high country has been struck hard by the COVID-19 outbreak and was the first place to see community spread in the state. There are 22 cases in Eagle County.

— Alex Scoville

2:39 p.m. — Here are the public transit services still providing rides to older adults and people with disabilities

Even in the midst of the new coronavirus outbreak and Gov. Jared Polis' directive to stay home when possible, some folks — especially older adults and those with disabilities — still have important appointments to get to.

The Denver Regional Mobility & Access Council is maintaining a list of transit providers, from RTD's paratransit service to city-run options like Lakewood Rides, that notes what, if any, changes have been made to their services.

You can find that list here.

Nathaniel Minor

1:44 p.m. — Shout out to everyone developing a new skill or honing an old one while social distancing ?

1:31 p.m. — A lot of you are hitting the trails in Boulder

Grace Hood/CPR News
Open space and trails in Boulder.

Boulder County Parks and Open Space are seeing an uptick in visitors.

"Getting outside for fresh air and exercise is recommended by Boulder County Public Health at this time, but precautions are necessary," spokesperson Vivienne Jannatpour said in a statement.

Officials recommended hiking on less-popular trails, disinfecting gear often and maintaining the six-foot social distance.

— Alex Scoville

1:14 p.m. — Bennet wants to give $2,000 in cash assistance to every adult and child

The Senate is expected to pass the House-negotiated coronavirus relief bill later today. It includes paid emergency leave, food aid and tests for all that need to be tested. 

But many in the Senate believe it doesn’t go far enough. 

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is one of them. He has proposed direct cash assistance of $2,000 per adult and child as a way to help families and businesses deal with the economic fallout of COVID-19.

The cash would also go to people who already receive social security, VA benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The plan would be phased out for higher-income taxpayers. 

There would be additional cash payments if the economy hits certain triggers or the public health crisis continues into July or beyond.

Bennet and more than a dozen of his Democratic and Independent colleagues have sent the proposal to Senate leadership. Some Republicans — like Sens. Mitt Rommney, Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley — have also called for direct cash payments to Americans.

The White House supports the idea of cash payments, but hasn't backed a specific proposal.

Senate Republicans are already working on a third relief package. McConnell indicated once his members are in agreement and the White House agrees, they will start negotiating with Democrats.

A third phase bill would need 60 senators to support it, requiring it to have bipartisan support.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released the outline of a $750 billion relief package that would include low-interest loans, increase money for unemployment insurance and focus on coronavirus treatment.

— Caitlyn Kim

12:31 p.m. — Get ready to stream some 'pachyderm perfection' from the Denver Zoo

We're here for this. Elephant experts from the Denver Zoo will answer your questions today at 1 p.m. at

— Jim Hill

12:14 p.m. — All 2,744 steps of the Manitou Incline are now closed

The city of Manitou Springs has closed access to the steep and popular (Steepular?) Incline until further notice. The city made the decision to close the hiking spot "as there are not suitable sanitization options available to those who visit." The city also noted that first responders who are called to the site are put into a high-risk situation.

Manitou Incline
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A hiker heads up the Manitou Incline Friday, Nov. 29, 2019.

The shuttle that visits the nearly mile-long climb is also shut down.

“While we were reluctant to close the incline, we had far more grave reservations regarding public health,” said Manitou Mayor John Graham in a statement.

— Jim Hill

Noon — Hey, 3rd Congressional District! Tipton is going to hold a tele-town hall

11:35 a.m. — Colorado now has 183 known positive cases of coronavirus, Gov. Polis says

He added that the actual number of cases is unknown but likely much, much higher, a point he has stressed repeatedly during the outbreak.

So far, two people have died and there have been 20 hospitalizations. A male in his 70s died due to COVID-19 in Weld County Tuesday. Colorado's first death from the coronavirus was identified as an El Paso County woman in her 80s who died in a Colorado Springs hospital on Friday, March 13.

Polis said today that $2.8 million has been raised over the past two days for a relief fund to provide emergency childcare for healthcare workers, first responders, healthcare providers and staff, police, EMTs and correctional officers, and workers in residential care, mental health and long term care facilities.

“A crisis can bring out the best in us," Polis said. "Every Coloradan can help do their part to look after each other."

— Kate Schimel

10:55 a.m. — Safeway and Albertson’s stores in 5 states will start setting aside two hours, two days a week for vulnerable populations to shop

In a release this morning, the companies said 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays would be designated for senior citizens and others at greater risk of catching COVID-19 to do their shopping.

The program applies to all Safeway and Albertson’s in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and New Mexico.

“We are asking that our customers help us reserve this shopping time for those most at risk in our communities,” the companies said in the release. “We thank our customers in advance for their compassion and understanding toward their neighbors and friends, and in helping us maintain this temporary operations guideline.”Besides senior citizens, the company said that time period would be set aside for pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system.

— Chuck Murphy

10:35 a.m. — Unemployment claims are already piling up in Colorado, and we want to know what that means for you

Take a look at these numbers: 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.

CPR's Andy Kenney is taking your questions about unemployment all day.

Coronavirus Cherry Cricket Restaurant Layoffs
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Lee Driscoll at the Cherry Cricket restaurant Tuesday, March 17, 2020. He’s the co-owner of Breckenridge-Wynkoop Holdings, which operates a half dozen restaurants around the state, including Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing and the Cherry Cricket. He had to furlough about 500 employees the previous day.

If you're dealing with glitches, wondering if you qualify, looking for child care, please hit him up Twitter (where you can DM him too), email [email protected] or call his mobile number: 919-414-2987. He's happy to keep you anonymous.

— Hart Van Denburg

9:02 a.m. — Live briefing from the federal coronavirus taskforce

Scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. MDT.

8:56 a.m. — Gov. Polis will speak later this morning

Polis will speak from the state Capitol to update on the response to coronavirus, efforts to raise relief funds, volunteerism in response to the public health crisis and more.

CPR will carry this briefing live at 10:15 a.m. MDT this morning. Find a signal near you or ask your smart speaker to "Play CPR News."

8:36 a.m. — Latest moves from our reps in Congress

In hopes that the pen is mightier than federal red tape, Colorado’s congressional delegation has sent a number of letters to get federal resources to the state. They wrote to the head of the Small Business Administration to urge the agency to approve an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration for Colorado, a request made by Gov. Jared Polis. This would help the state’s small businesses deal with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

Many Colorado businesses have closed temporarily and have suffered losses as people stay at home to limit the spread of the coronavirus. “All sectors of the economy are feeling the effects of this pandemic and every available incentive to help businesses and the workers they employ through this uncertain time is critical,” said Rep. Joe Neguse.

“With over 1.1 million Coloradans employed by small businesses, we must do everything we can to help Colorado’s workforce and quickly approve Colorado’s request for a disaster declaration,” Rep. Jason Crow said in a statement. Crow has had to self-isolate after meeting with a constituent who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

All members of the delegation, except for Rep. Ken Buck, also sent a letter to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to request clear guidelines on options available to the state, local and tribal governments under national emergency declared by President Donald Trump. 

Rep. Scott Tipton said many counties across the state are frustrated in trying to find out where the federal government might reimburse for local costs during this public health crisis. “While FEMA and other agencies have provided a few examples of what can be reimbursed – such as costs associated with activating State Emergency Operations Centers and the state National Guards – they have not provided specific examples for the local levels or clear guidelines on how to access these funds,” Tipton said in a statement.

The biggest form of help could come in a coronavirus aid package currently moving through Congress, and another aid package the Senate is currently trying to craft.

— Caitlyn Kim

8:00 a.m. — Costilla County issues emergency declaration

There are currently no known cases of COVID-19 in Costilla County, in the southern San Luis Valley. On Tuesday, the county took proactive steps to prepare for the arrival of the coronavirus. The county's public health department is prohibiting events of 10 or more people and the county declared a local emergency.

— Jim Hill

7:36 a.m. — Wall Street continues to whipsaw

Stocks opened sharply lower as fears spread of economic damage from the coronavirus; Dow sinks 1,200 points or 6 percent.

Unused Wheelchairs At DIA
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Lines of unused wheelchairs at Denver International Airport Tuesday March 17 20920.

7:31 a.m. — Front line workers say they aren't protected enough

Janitors, airport workers, flight attendants and firefighters say they need more from either their employers, the federal government — or both.

Jimmy Allen, an Aurora firefighter who represents 5,000 workers with the Colorado Professional Firefighters, said he and his coworkers across the state are short on supplies and paid sick leave.

Allen said they are short protective masks, gowns, oxygen and albuterol treatments.

“We have enough for a few calls maybe, but now we have to pick and choose what calls we’re going to wear our protective measures on,” Allen said. “The supplies should just be endless.”

Allen and other workers stood behind a call by the SEIU Local 105 labor union leader Ron Ruggiero for a “people’s bailout,” more paid sick leave and stronger health care coverage.

David Sachs

7:03 a.m. — ☕️ Good morning, Parents. Good luck today

"Even for parents who love hanging with their kids, you can only take so much family time before you start to get stressed." We're all in this together, while we're apart, but parents have a little more to deal with. Here's a story from education reporter Jenny Brundin with some tips for parents while you've got the munchkins at home (for who knows how long).

— Dave Burdick

6:50 a.m. — White House coronavirus taskforce briefing later this morning

Colorado Public Radio will carry today's live briefing from the White House at 9:30 a.m. MDT. Find a signal near you or ask your smart speaker to "Play CPR News." We'll also post a video live stream of the briefing here in the live blog so that you can watch.

— Jim Hill

6:35 a.m. — Sen. Cory Gardner, Rep. Jason Crow will self-quarantine

Two members of Colorado's Congressional delegation are now isolating themselves, after potential exposure to the new coronavirus.

On Tuesday evening, in separate news releases, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic Rep. Jason Crow both said they'd had contact with a Colorado constituent who later tested positive for the virus and will self-quarantine. It's unclear if both men met with the same person.

"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. "While I am not showing any symptoms at this time, I have made the decision to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution with an effective date of March 11th at the recommendation of the Tri-County Health Department."

— Bente Birkeland

Here is Tuesday's live blog of updates.