Colorado Coronavirus Updates For March 19: Closures, Testing, Cases And More

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Adding to life’s challenges with coronavirus and social distancing in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020. Like all bars ordered closed in Colorado, this one inside Denver Central Market is closed and deserted.

This post collects all of our reporting and updates related to the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado for Thursday, March 19, 2020. You can find the latest news for Friday here. Our original play-by-play of updates continues below.

8:41 p.m. — El Paso County senior living center has six confirmed cases

El Paso County Public Health has confirmed that six people connected to the Laurel Manor senior living center in southeast Colorado Springs have tested positive for COVID-19.

The county could not confirm how the virus was introduced to the facility, or what the health status is of those who were found to be infected. Michelle Hewitt, public health information officer for El Paso County, said the next step is to “investigate these cases, and assess potential exposures.”

“We understand that this is very concerning, and this is definitely one of our more vulnerable populations,” Hewitt said. “It’s something that we’re taking very seriously.”

In a statement, El Paso County says it’s working with the center to “ensure ill patients are receiving the proper care while limiting further spread of disease.” Proactive efforts “are focused on identifying, isolating and testing all of those who may be at risk because of these new cases.”

Hewitt would not share why individuals were tested, or if other people in the center have since been tested. She said that as the situation is investigated, it will be determined what next steps should be taken. Hewitt would not say if those who have been found infected are residents or employees.

Laurel Manor is a Volunteers of America facility. A March 13 statement on their website said no cases were known in any of their facilities. Laurel Manor's focus is on short-term rehabilitation and long-term care.

— Michael Elizabeth Sakas

8:22 p.m. — Drive-up testing sites to open in La Plata County

A drive-up COVID-19 testing site will be open Friday and Saturday in southwest Colorado.

The testing site at the La Plata County Fairgrounds is for healthcare workers, first responders, older adults and people with underlying health conditions, like lung or heart issues.

There are no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in southwest Colorado around Durango, but local health officials say they believe the number of cases is under-reported because of a lack of testing in the area up to this point.

Testing will take place from 12 - 6 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. on Saturday.

— Rachel Estabrook

7:27 p.m. — Need some fresh tunes? We can help with that

Indie 102.3 knew you might have been wearing your favorite album thin, so to speak, and made some playlists to help brighten your days in isolation.

Find all of your future favorite songs here.

4:34 p.m. — Hey, it snowed today

It was another reason to stay indoors — and a reminder that the world is still turning, despite it all.

Coronavirus, Social Distancing, And Now Snow In Denver
Adding to life’s challenges with coronavirus and social distancing in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020: wet, heavy snow. A pedestrian makes his way along a covered walk way beside a construction site on Larimer Street.
Coronavirus, Social Distancing, And Now Snow In Denver
Can you spot this letter carrier on Larimer Street? Adding to life’s challenges with coronavirus and social distancing in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020: wet, heavy snow.
Coronavirus, Social Distancing, And Now Snow In Denver
Adding to life’s challenges with coronavirus and social distancing in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020: wet, heavy snow. One of a half-dozen tents set up just of Larimer Street, with brand new homes behind.
Coronavirus, Social Distancing, And Now Snow In Denver
Adding to life’s challenges with coronavirus and social distancing in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020: wet, heavy snow. Like all bars ordered closed in Colorado, this one inside Denver Central Market is closed and deserted.
Coronavirus, Social Distancing, And Now Snow In Denver
Adding to life’s challenges with coronavirus and social distancing in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020: wet, heavy snow. But they’re still scooping ice cream at High Point Creamery in Denver Central Market.
Coronavirus, Social Distancing, And Now Snow In Denver
Adding to life’s challenges with coronavirus and social distancing in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020: wet, heavy snow. An RTD employee shovels snow beside the A Line commuter rail train at the 38th and Blake station.
Coronavirus, Social Distancing, And Now Snow In Denver
Adding to life’s challenges with coronavirus and social distancing in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020: wet, heavy snow. Time for a walk with the dog on Forest Street Parkway.

— Hart Van Denburg

4:12 p.m. — Colorado reports 61 new confirmed cases, statewide total now at 277

New numbers from state health officials on Thursday show the largest increase in cases in a day since Colorado first confirmed the presence of the new coronavirus on March 5, adding 61 cases for a statewide total of 277.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ran over 600 tests in the past day as testing efforts ramp up.

Eagle and Denver counties still lead the number of positive COVID-19 results, at 51 and 49 respectively.

— Alex Scoville

3:52 p.m. — A lot of coronavirus cases in Mexico can be traced back to Vail

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Gondola One ferried skiers and snowboarders up Vail Mountain on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

The Mexican state of Jalisco is trying to track down 400 travelers who chartered planes to Vail recently, Bloomberg reports. The Colorado ski destination — and now, a COVID-19 hotspot — is popular among Mexican skiers.

Several travelers who returned from Vail have already tested positive for the new coronavirus, including three high-profile businessmen.

Eagle County, where Vail is located, has 39 cases of COVID-19.

— Alex Scoville

3:32 p.m. — Colorado small businesses can now apply for low-interest disaster loans

Empty Restaurant Chairs On Tables
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An empty Tables Restaurant in Denver’s Park Hill n neighborhood Wednesday March 18, 2020.

The Small Business Administration approved Colorado’s disaster declaration request. This paves the way for low-interest loans of up to $2 million for the state’s small businesses suffering from the economic fallout of COVID-19. 

Gov. Jared Polis said while the state is committed to limiting the spread of the virus, he will “continue fighting to ensure the pain that Colorado’s small businesses are feeling is limited.” 

The state’s congressional delegations also supported the push for the disaster designation. And Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse, who led that effort with Rep Jason Crow, said it is just a first step. 

“The reality is given the perilous economic conditions that we find ourselves in today,” Neguse explained. “It’s going to be important for the Congress to act boldly and to take swift and decisive action in providing immediate cash assistance and significant relief for families, workers and small businesses.” 

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Susan Collins of Maine announced a plan to provide small businesses grants to keep their employees on the payroll through this crisis. The proposal will be included in a third relief package being negotiated in the Senate.

Congress is looking at other ways to help consumers and businesses protect their wallets. Neguse has written to Attorney General Bill Barr urging him to take action against extensive price gouging.  There have been stories of toilet paper, cleaning supplies and even medical masks being sold on Craigslist and other websites at marked-up prices.  

Colorado doesn’t have a law against price gouging, said Neguse, so he’s turning to the feds.

“The fact that there are people exploiting this fear and exploiting this crisis for profit is unconscionable. It needs to stop,” Neguse said. 

He believes there are a number of tools the Justice Department could use to curb this practice, including working with states that have already taken action against price gouging.

— Caitlyn Kim

2:29 p.m. — Olympic training center to close

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center will close immediately for at least 30 days following Gov. Jared Polis' orders to push back against the spread of the new coronavirus,

Residents of the Colorado Springs facility and those who have been training in-house will be allowed to continue living there.

Alex Scoville

2:07 p.m. — Your afternoon moment of joy

1:21 p.m. — Someone in the Nuggets' organization tested positive for COVID-19

According to the team, the person was tested on March 16 after experiencing symptoms related to the disease. The person is "currently under the care of medical staff and in self-isolation." 

The statement from the team did not identify the staffer's department. 

Ana Campbell

12:56 p.m. — El Paso County reports their second COVID-19 death

According to a release from El Paso County Public Health, the second individual to have died, a male in his 60s, was identified as a contact of a previous case, a woman in her 80s who was the state's first confirmed death.

“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 a statement.

This announcement brings the state's total deaths to three, including a death in Weld County that was reported on Tuesday.

— Jim Hill

12:38 p.m. — Polis wishes he could give blood, but it would be illegal

Gov. Jared Polis said one way Coloradans can help in the coronavirus crisis is to donate blood. Not because treatment of COVID-19 necessarily requires transfusions, but because donations have sunk.

The thing is: Polis can’t give blood himself.

As a gay man, he falls into the category of “men who have sex with men.” The FDA says people in this category can only donate if it has been a year since they’ve had sex with another man. The MSM rule replaced an outright ban (known as an “indefinite deferral”), but is controversial. The FDA claims it’s about protecting the blood supply.

In a statement sent to CPR this morning, Polis said, “Yes, I am very disappointed that I can’t give blood simply because I’m gay. I’m in a loving relationship of 17 years and my blood is as good as anyone else’s. It’s past time for this unscientific and discriminatory law that does nothing to improve public health to end. As we mobilize our robust relief effort to help all Coloradans overcome the impacts of this pandemic, we need help from all people no matter whether they are gay or straight and any law that gets in the way of that threatens the public health.” 

When he was a congressman, Polis unsuccessfully fought to change the FDA’s 12-month rule in 2016 after a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

— Ryan Warner

12:12 p.m. — Wanna help out?

Noon — Democratic state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet tests positive for COVID-19

Michaelson Jenet told CPR she received the results Thursday morning. She got tested after feeling feverish on Sunday. The day before she had been at the state capitol when lawmakers voted to temporarily stop the session to try and prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

“I was just getting over bronchitis, like the symptoms were going down. I had just sent my doctor an email that things were getting better. And then, a day and a half later, I spiked a fever around 102,” Michaelsen Jenet said.

She said she has no idea how she may have contracted COVID-19.

Democratic Speaker of the House KC Becker said her colleagues wish Michaelson Jenet the best and are pulling for her.

"While I cannot speak for every lawmaker, I know that most are doing their best to follow the advice of public health officials and are staying at home," Becker said. "We all need to do our part. Lawmakers are taking the guidance from public health officials very seriously."

— Bente Birkeland

11:27 a.m. — Polis extends ski resort closure order; Gardner asks Forest Service to waive fees

While many ski hill operators have already made the decision to shut down their resorts for the season, Colorado's high country is still a hot spot. The governor extended the executive order issued last week that temporarily shuttered ski resorts with a new end date of April 6. The original order had set a date of March 22 for when resorts could re-open. Read the governor's new order.

In the meantime, Sen. Cory Gardner sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ask that the Forest Service waive the remainder of the land use fees that resorts owe for their leased public lands.

— Jim Hill

11:15 a.m. — Colorado's congressional delegation trying to make sure state gets a share of medical supplies from the federal military stockpile

Rep. Joe Neguse said at a virtual town hall Wednesday that there are other stockpiles state lawmakers are trying to secure supplies from as well.

"There's a national stockpile managed by the Health and Human Services department. The entire delegation sent a letter to Secretary Azar imploring him to also facilitate a release to Colorado," Neguse said.

Neguse said a first emergency supplemental bill will help produce and deliver supplies like masks, but that the supplies are not coming as quickly as Congress had hoped.

— Andrew Villegas

10:45 a.m. — Workers in the music, restaurant, janitorial and airport industries are taking a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic

Empty Restaurant Chairs On Tables
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An empty restaurant in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

With thousands of unemployment claims coming in daily in Colorado, the state is trying to figure out a way to keep up. The state's first attempt is to match newly unemployed people with industries that are growing because of increased demand. That includes health care, childcare, post offices and grocery stores.

— Taylor Allen

10:10 a.m. — Twice as many Colorado residents applied for firearms background checks last week compared to the same time last year

Colorado Bureau of Investigation data shows the number of background checks jumped from 7,000 to 14,000 in that period. The wait time has rocketed upward too, from a typical 5-8 minutes to about two days now. And there's a backlog of about 5,000 cases.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Drew Miller, a self-described prepper, is the CEO of Fortitude Ranch.

What's behind the numbers? "Mass hysteria over guarding toilet paper," one Colorado Springs gun shop owner told ABC News, adding that "preppers, housewives and ranchers" are among the buyers. We met a prepper in a remote corner of the Colorado mountains last November — that's Drew Miller, armed with an AR-15, above.

— Hart Van Denburg

8:34 a.m. — Trump update on coronavirus efforts

The president will speak from the White House at 9:00 a.m. MDT this morning. CPR News will carry the president's remarks live. Find a radio signal near you, ask your smart speaker to "Play CPR News" or watch the video below.

8:08 a.m. — Oh, by the way, expect some spring snow today

The northern and northeast parts of Colorado are under either a winter storm warning or a blizzard warning. We're all probably nice and stocked up though at home now due to events.

Nonetheless, the National Weather Service says a storm will drop snow on northeast and north-central Colorado throughout the day today.  Lower elevations, including the Front Range, are expected to see heavy, wet snowfall with between 4 to 10 inches. The snow will be accompanied by strong winds. Blizzard conditions are possible on the plains this afternoon and into the night.

— Allison Borden, Jim Hill

7:52 a.m. — How the state parks department is handling our new normal

Colorado Parks and Wildlife says it hopes to keep state parks open for as long as possible. Although, some activities have been canceled to stem the spread of COVID-19. CPW employees will work from home if possible and wear gloves when they interact with visitors. They are also encouraging visitors to please use online portals for payments and other transactions. Safety appears to be the paramount concern.

"If you decide that now would be the best time to try the most technical climbing route of your life, um, this is really not the time," said spokeswoman Rebecca Ferrell.

Park rangers and search and rescue teams are considered essential staff and will be active at state parks but their response times could be delayed, Ferrell said. Some visitor centers are closed. And officials say people should keep to proper social distancing while in the parks.

— Elena Rivera, KRCC

7:28 a.m. — San Miguel County shelters in place

Officials in San Miguel County, home to Telluride, have ordered people to shelter in place due to the novel coronavirus. The order instructs people to limit their movement outside of their homes to only quote "essential activities." That includes buying food or medication, to exercise while maintaining social distancing or to work at an essential business. The order lasts until April 3.

The county has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 but officials say medical workers suspect they may be treating people with the virus. It was also announced Wednesday that the county, through a public-private partnership, will test all residents free of charge. Timeline and locations are still being worked out.

— Andrew Villegas

7:11 a.m. — The state will use testing to try and get a sense of a scale on the spread

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it is going to use its resources to get tests into communities that have not yet had it so they can get a sense of the spread of the disease.

A temporary site will open in Pueblo today with support from the county health department and the Colorado National Guard. No details on the testing center have been provided yet.

In a statement, Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, said, "It’s critical that we are gathering data in all areas of the state, especially areas where there hasn’t been a lot of testing."

More sites are soon expected to open across Colorado and will be pre-selected to serve high-risk patients, the state health department said. No walk-up or drive-up service will be offered.

— Jim Hill

6:38 a.m. — Colorado gets serious about social distancing

The latest public health order from the Polis administration kicked in at midnight today. On Wednesday, schools were ordered closed to in-person learning until at least April 17 and gatherings were limited to no more than 10 people for the next 30 days.

From the order:

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.

Public Health Order 20-23

"Engage in social distancing," Polis said on Wednesday. "What you're doing is you're jeopardizing the lives of your friends and their families and their relatives. So be smart here."

The order to limit groups doesn't apply in a few key situations, chief among them going to the grocery store. You'll still be able to shop as you need. Other places for "normal-ish" gatherings include the airport, bus and train stops, the pharmacy and health care facilities. Please remember though to practice good social distancing of at least 6 feet between persons if you find yourself in these situations.

— Jim Hill

6:21 a.m. — Where cases stand this morning

Colorado currently has 216 known positive cases of COVID-19. Twenty-six people are hospitalized, more than 2,300 people tested and there have been two deaths — one in Weld and the other in El Paso County.

The virus has been identified in 20 counties. Denver and Eagle counties still lead the number of cases: 43 and 39, respectively.

— Jim Hill

Here is the live blog from yesterday.