Colorado Coronavirus Updates For March 21 & 22: Closures, Testing, Cases And More

Medical personnel wait for the next patient to pull into the bay to be tested for the coronavirus during a drive through testing facility at the La Plata County fairgrounds Friday afternoon.Medical personnel wait for the next patient to pull into the bay to be tested for the coronavirus during a drive through testing facility at the La Plata County fairgrounds Friday afternoon.Chris Neal/Shooter Imaging/For CPR News
Medical personnel wait for the next patient to pull into the bay to be tested for the coronavirus during a drive through testing facility at the La Plata County fairgrounds Friday afternoon.

This post collects all of our reporting and updates from the weekend of March 21 and 22 on the coronavirus in Colorado. You can find the latest updates from Monday here. Our original play-by-play of reporting continues below.


Sunday's updates

7:36 p.m. — Closing up the live blog for the night

Things we did expect today (which you can read more about below): An increase in tests, an increase in positive cases, Coloradans donating supplies.

Things we didn't expect: The governor invoking the Grim Reaper.

The upshots from the day include that the governor really wants people to shop for groceries once a week at most, and to do their jobs/enjoy their parks/apply for unemployment, but all at staggered hours.

If you don't already get our newsletter, sign up right now so you'll be sure to get a fresh story coming tomorrow morning about people on the front lines of the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.

See you tomorrow.

— Dave Burdick

6:18 p.m. — In a moment of community spirit, Coloradans donate thousands of gloves for hospitals

Earlier today, we reported that Colorado lawmakers and the Denver Broncos teamed up to collect much-needed medical supplies from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. 

By the end of the day, there were enough donations to fill four trucks and 30 pallets. Gloves were the most popular donation. Colorado Concern, one of the organizers, estimated that the public donated hundreds of thousands.

"The Denver area and the surrounding communities has certainly blown us away with their generosity, " CEO of Colorado Concern Mike Kopp said. He said he is open to doing more of these drives in other parts of the state if necessary. 

— Taylor Allen

6:05 p.m. — Weld County announces second death, bringing state total to seven

The Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment said it had been notified a second resident of the county had died of COVID-19. The deceased was a woman in her 70s. In total, 591 Coloradans have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The governor has warned that the number of positive tests and the number of deaths is likely to rise in the coming days and weeks.

Kate Schimel

5:13 p.m. — Polis orders Coloradans to stay home, slams federal response to outbreak

You can listen live on air or online at CPR. You can watch the briefing at our page: https://www.facebook.com/ColoradoPublicRadio/videos/215398716221283/

Polis also highlighted the gravity of the disease outbreak, saying, “We fully expect it will reach all 64 counties.”

He said that while the state was not wielding its enforcement authority to keep people add, there is a more severe enforcement authority that should keep people home for themselves and others: the Grim Reaper.

He also said that he recognized the heavy measures in place could not be sustained for too long without severe economic effects. "This can't last forever."

Read more on his announcement today and why the governor has avoided requiring Coloradans to shelter in place.

Kate Schimel

5:00 p.m. — Total COVID-19 cases identified in Colorado crosses 500

The state released new numbers today that show that 591 Coloradans have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The state also confirmed its sixth death, and five outbreaks at residential and non-hospital health care facilities. El Paso County's public health department said yesterday that a man in his 70s was the sixth death, but did not offer further details. The number of people tested tops 5,400 and 58 people are hospitalized.

Kate Schimel

4:46 p.m. — House showings in the Denver metro area seem to be down

According to LIV Sotheby's International Realty, the average physical showings per week from January to the beginning of March was about 7,000. This past week it was at about 4,600.

Realtors are getting creative, though.

"With our sellers' permission, we can do what is termed 'virtual showings' meaning that the buyer's agent would go into the home and use a FaceTime application or some other ways in which they could be in the home and show it in real time to their clients," Senior Vice President Heather Heuer said.

She also said home prices have remained stable because there is still not enough supply to satisfy the demand.

Taylor Allen

4:18 p.m. — Denver courthouse closes after attorney diagnosed with COVID-19

The Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse will be closed on Monday, March 23 and Tuesday, March 24, for cleaning after an an attorney who'd argued cases multiple times the week before testing positive for the new coronavirus. The attorney is now in quarantine with mild symptoms, Chief Judge Michael A. Martinez said in a statement.

"I have also decided that all district court criminal dockets will be suspended for the week of March 23," he said. "During this time, the Court will work with defense counsel and the district attorney to implement virtual courtrooms where all appearances will be conducted via remote access once criminal dockets resume."

People who had been in touch with the attorney have been notified and told what steps to take.

Kate Schimel

4:13 p.m. — President Donald Trump addressed the nation and announced additional aid for state

White House Press Briefing on the new coronavirus

In addition to new aid for heavily affected states, Vice-President Mike Pence announced that new guidelines would direct commercial labs to prioritize testing patients in hospitals.

Kate Schimel

3:55 p.m. — Attorney General urges a statewide pause on eviction proceedings

The governor and the state attorney general are trying to make sure people who can’t pay rent due to coronavirus don’t get evicted.

Neither of them has the authority to block all evictions, though. But they are urging courts, county sheriffs and police departments to suspend enforcement. 

State Attorney General Phil Weiser on Sunday encouraged state courts to halt eviction proceedings. That comes on the heels of Gov. Jared Polis requesting that law enforcement and landlords put a hold on evictions.

“In this emergency, evicting any Coloradan from their home would exacerbate the public health and economic crisis we are fighting together,” Wieser said. While Weiser can’t order courts, he notes that the state Supreme Court’s chief justice has granted local judges the authority to drop eviction cases for now.

And Weiser noted that courts in several cities and counties, including Denver, Mesa, Weld and Boulder counties, have already already done so. He urged the rest of the state’s courts to follow suit. 
 
Polis can control state law enforcement agencies, and on Friday issued an executive order ensuring they would not take part in evictions. He requested that sheriff and police departments take the same stance.

So far, law enforcement in Denver, Aurora and a few other cities and towns have agreed. Polis also urged utilities to forego shutoff of services when people can’t pay. Many utilities had already taken that step, including the state’s largest, Xcel Energy. 

“We want to ensure that people aren't losing their home or utility service because of the public health emergency that wasn't your fault,” Polis said. He encouraged landlords not to evict or fine tenants for late payments through April 30.

— Kelley Griffin

3:33 p.m. — First Colorado National Guard soldier in isolation with case of new coronavirus

A Colorado National Guard member has tested positive for COVID-19. 

The service member is in isolation at Fort Carson, The Durango Herald reports.

“Protecting the health of our force, families and our communities is our top priority,” said Adjutant General of Colorado U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mike Loh. “We have taken every precaution, in coordination with our state and federal partners, to isolate our National Guard member to prevent the spread of this disease while ensuring he receives proper medical attention.”

The National Guard member is serving in the Colorado Army National Guard and the soldier is in his 30s and is a male resident of Douglas County, according to the Herald. 

2:56 p.m. — El Paso County deputy tests positive for COVID-19

A deputy with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a release from the office. 

The deputy has been isolated for almost a week and is getting better, the release said. All employees who have had contact with this deputy have been notified.

The sheriff’s office said officials have had plans in place and have been taking steps to prevent further spread to other employees and inmates that it houses in the jail.

According to the release, the sheriff’s office is in constant consultation and coordination with members of the El Paso County Health Department. 

“We now know the virus has spread throughout the community and further attempts to prevent casual spread are becoming more difficult. We will continue to monitor our employees for symptoms and will take the appropriate measures at that point,” the release said.

— Alison Borden

2:04 p.m. — Trump holds press conference, says "many things to discuss"

President Donald Trump will speak at 3 p.m. MST from the White House.

1:40 p.m. — Polis to discuss state efforts to address the COVID-19 outbreak

Gov. Jared Polis will hold a press conference after the White House briefing concludes to give an update on the state's response to COVID-19 at the Emergency Operations Center in Centennial.

1:24 p.m. — Donation drive for personal protective equipment hosted by Broncos and state lawmakers at Mile High

Colorado lawmakers and the Denver Broncos teamed up to collect much-needed medical supplies from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. 

John Daley/CPR News
State lawmakers and the Denver Broncos hosted a donation drive for personal protective equipment on Sunday, March 22, 2020, at Empower Field at Mile High. They were collecting surgical masks, gloves and other medical equipment in short supply while COVID-19 cases rise in Colorado. John Daley/CPR News

Local businesses and non-profits were asked to donate personal protection equipment — like goggles and surgical masks — because medical professionals testing for and treating patients with COVID-19 are seeing shortages. They’re in dire need of unopened boxes of sterile gloves and unused disposable gowns. 

At a parking lot on the north side of Empower Field at Mile High, the Broncos stadium, people wearing gloves and masks — and spaced more than 6 feet apart — were collecting items and thanking the donors. 

Last week, Gov. Jared Polis banned elective surgeries as one way of retaining medical supplies for the fight against the novel coronavirus. Polis also required any Colorado business or non-hospital health facility, including construction companies, to conduct an inventory of all protective respiratory equipment including masks and ventilators and prepare to report that to the state.

— Alison Borden

1:20 p.m. — Olympic committee considers postponing 2020 Games

The executive board of the International Olympic Committee announced Sunday that it will consider postponing the 2020 Games in Tokyo. 

After the board meeting, committee President Thomas Bach wrote to the global athlete community

In the letter, Bach said that safeguarding the health of everyone involved and contributing to contain the virus is fundamental, and said: “Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games.”

The IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, will start detailed discussions about the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Games, including the scenario of postponement. 

The executive board emphasized that cancellation is not on the agenda.

— Alison Borden

10:32 a.m. — Sen. Michael Bennet joins other Democrats in pressing president to answer questions about medical supplies shortages

Sen. Michael Bennet, with several other Democratic senators, sent a letter to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence demanding answers about supplies and equipment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The senators asked the president and vice president to confirm any shortages in the national stockpile, to address their strategy to close any such shortages, and to clarify how they will  increase production of supplies and equipment needed for the pandemic response.

“State, local, territorial, and tribal public health agencies are leading the response to the pandemic. These departments know their communities well and are making the best decisions they can to keep their citizens safe. However, our constituents working as health care providers and front line responders in hospitals, public health departments, and throughout their communities report the health care system is woefully under-resourced, especially in our rural, underserved areas and minority communities that are often overlooked. This problem is most acute with shortages of supplies and equipment that are desperately needed to test for and treat COVID-19 patients,” wrote the senators.

The senators asked the president and vice president to answer the questions about medical supplies and equipment no later than March 24.

Alison Borden

10:25 a.m. — State health officials update list of exemptions for social-distancing order

Late Saturday night, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment clarified its statewide public health order on social distancing that limits gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

The department issued the order to slow the spread of COVID-19 by limiting person-to-person contact -- the way the virus is most commonly transmitted.

The order applies to all public and private gatherings except for those specifically exempted by the order. The exemptions are: 

  • The Colorado General Assembly, legislative bodies of municipal governments, and Colorado state and municipal courts.
  • Airports, bus, and train stations, health care facilities, and grocery or retail stores, pharmacies, or other spaces where 10 or more people are getting essential goods and services.
  • Delivery and take-out food services in accordance with the previous order that closed bars, restaurants, theaters, gymnasiums and casinos
  • Offices and state, county, and municipal government buildings where essential government services are offered.
  • Factories where more than 10 people are present, but social distancing measures of maintaining at least 6 feet between individuals is standard.
  • Newspaper, television, radio, and other media services.
  • Child care facilities, except for public preschools operated on public school campuses
  • Homeless shelters.
  • Any emergency facility needed to respond to COVID-19 in Colorado.

Alison Borden

9:28 a.m. — I have asthma. Am I at a greater risk of getting COVID-19?

An important distinction here: There are two different kinds of risk when it comes to COVID-19. There’s whether someone has a greater chance of contracting the disease. Then there’s whether someone will develop serious illness once he or she has it. 

Since this is a new virus, people tend to have fewer antibodies to fight it off. That’s why health experts tend to agree people have about equal risk of contracting COVID-19, whether they have asthma or other respiratory conditions.

But May Chu, a clinical professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, said asthmatic people are at greater risk if they catch it.

“Once the asthmatic people get it, they’re more likely to get more serious symptoms than those who do not have asthma,” she said.

The World Health Organization agrees, but other research offers a more complicated picture. One study of 140 patients with the disease in China found none of them reported asthma or severe allergies.

You can find answers to questions like this (and many more) in our FAQ. We're constantly adding to it and answering your questions, in English and Spanish.

Francie Swidler

8:24 a.m. — Hospitals in Colorado Springs are take a page from the military to prepare for potential overflow

Several of those who lead emergency preparedness in the Colorado Springs area, home to Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy, point to their military backgrounds as a key reason they recently set-up MASH-like tents adjacent to hospitals in the area. 

“Many of us have served in the military, and we got together and figured out what we think is the best way to separate out and screen people for COVID-19,” said David Tharp, senior director of emergency services at UCHealth in Colorado Springs.

The idea was to get ahead of the novel coronavirus and use the tents to divert those who may have the virus to a location apart from the rest of the patient population. It’s also a way to deal with the possibility of overflow patients if the virus continues to spread. 

At Memorial Central, a UCHealth hospital in the Springs, patients are stopped and screened right inside the emergency entrance.  Those who have respiratory issues — and appear very sick — are taken back to an isolation room in the hospital. Otherwise those coughing or having trouble breathing are diverted to the large tent outside with four exam rooms where they’re further screened. It’s up to the nurse to decide whether to test the patient. Since opening the tent to patients Tuesday, providers have been seeing about 50 people a day.  

Two other UC Health facilities in the area, Memorial North and the  freestanding Emergency Department in nearby Fountain, have set up tents and will open those to patients when they begin seeing increased visits.  Other hospitals in the state have also erected tents or have retrofitted existing hospital space to separate potential COVID-19 patients from other patients. 

Currently, many emergency rooms report seeing even fewer patients than is normal for this time of year, likely because many people decide that going to the hospital is risky. But the hospitals expect to see more patients in the next week or two. 

— Andrea Dukakis


Saturday's updates

5:57 p.m. — Road construction work will continue, CDOT says

The Colorado Department of Transportation says construction will go on for major projects currently underway, like the expansions of Interstates 70 and 25.

“Aside from some enhanced cleaning and social distancing protocols, our construction work is continuing,” CDOT spokesman Matt Inzeo said in an email.

CDOT’s top staffers updated the transportation commission on the agency’s pandemic response at its meeting last week. “We’ve set up a cadence that’s not unlike one we’d set up for a natural disaster,” Executive Director Shoshana Lew told commissioners. 

CDOT may also take advantage of the relatively empty roads, as many workers in other industries have either lost their jobs or are telecommuting. “We're actually checking to see if reduced daytime traffic will allow us to do daytime paving in spots where we couldn't normally do it this time of year,” Inzeo wrote.

— Nathaniel Minor

4:53 p.m. — You've earned this break

Steve Martin is offering this Moment of Zen today. Close your eyes, turn up the volume and give yourself a break from the news for a minute and 19 seconds.

Rachel Estabrook

4:30 p.m. — More positive tests and a fifth death as state asks residents to avoid calling 911 for coronavirus information

Colorado reported another 112 positive tests for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

A fifth Coloradan was also reported to have died from the disease. Eagle County Public Health said he was in his 60s and died in a Denver-area hospital. He had underlying health conditions before contracting COVID-19.

The increase in positive tests has been expected, as the illness spreads, along with the testing capacity of both the state and private labs. Another 870 tests were completed between Friday and Saturday, a number that has been steadily growing since the start of the outbreak in the state March 5.

Denver, with 97 reported cases, and Eagle County, with 74, continue to lead the state in positive test results.

The state reported 86 positive tests on Friday from 700 tests administered.

The state Department of Public Health and Environment issued new guidelines Saturday for residents who think they may have COVID-19.

For starters, only call 911 if you have severe symptoms like severe shortness of breath. Do not call the emergency line for general information on COVID-19. Those answers can be found here or by calling 303-389-1687.

The illness starts like a common cold, along with possible fever, cough and body aches and fatigues. If you have those symptoms, and they don’t progress, CDPHE asks that you isolate yourself until 72 hours have passed since you last had a fever, your cough has improved and seven days have passed since the onset of symptoms.

If you begin to experience a more serious shortness of breath, CDPHE asks that you call your health care provider, explaining your symptoms. Ask if they have telehealth services to avoid going out and risking further spread of the illness. A list of telehealth providers can also be found here.

Chuck Murphy

3:45 p.m. — "Come on folks...This is not social distancing"

Remember how, just yesterday, alpine rescue teams asked skiers to resist the snow and stay home for everyone’s sake?

“Stay out of the high country. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense right now,” said Colorado Search and Rescue Association President Jeff Sparhawk.

Well, a lot of people either didn’t get the message or they chose to ignore it. 

A nearly-minute long video tweeted by Loveland Ski Area’s official mascot shows lines of cars parked near the base, and up Loveland pass. 

— Nathaniel Minor

3:30 p.m. — UCHealth ends hospital visitation to slow spread of virus

UCHealth, one of the largest health systems in the region, will implement a “no visitors” policy at all its facilities starting at 8 p.m. tonight.

In a release, the hospital system said they encourage families with relatives in the hospital to use tech tools to stay in touch.

“The policy will be disappointing for patients and their loved ones,” a statement from the hospital system said. “We encourage patients and their families to maximize use of virtual video connections, chats and phone calls. Most other hospitals in Colorado have instituted similar visitor restrictions.”

Exceptions will be made for maternity patients, newborns in ICU, pediatric patients and those in end of life care. Outpatients can bring one visitor.

UCHealth operates 12 full service hospitals including one at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, along with scores of clinics and physician practices in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

— Chuck Murphy

2:07 p.m. — Amazon warehouse employees get more overtime pay, and King Soopers employees get bonuses

Reuters reports that Amazon will raise overtime pay for associates in its U.S. warehouses. An Amazon spokesperson tells CPR News that will include more than 4,000 Coloradans. The company has warehouses in metro Denver in Thornton, Aurora, and unincorporated Arapahoe County near Centennial.

Amazon associates normally get 1.5 times their usual hourly rate for overtime, but through May 9, they will get double the normal pay rate. That's on top of a previously-announced $2 per hour increase that is in effect through April.

The announcement comes a few days after some Amazon warehouse workers told The Washington Post they're worried the company isn't taking enough safety precautions at its facilities. Amazon told the Post, "We are going to great lengths to keep the buildings extremely clean and help employees practice important precautions such as social distancing and other measures."

Meanwhile, Kroger, which owns King Soopers and City Market grocery stores, announced it's giving a one-time bonus to hourly grocery, supply chain, manufacturing and customer service associates. Full-time workers get $300 and part-time workers get $150.

— Rachel Estabrook

12:07 p.m. — Colorado's economic fallout is widening

Courtesy Mary Claire Friesema
Mary Claire Friesema's Red Boots Chauffeured Transportation is facing an existential challenge from the coronavirus

As impacts from the coronavirus continue to ripple through the economy, the threat is becoming more real to a second wave of potential casualties.

Bar and restaurant workers, manicurists, tattoo artists and massage therapists have all already felt the direct impact of government restrictions designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Now, even without government restrictions, other small businesses are beginning to feel it.

Businesses like Red Boots Chauffeured Transportation. Owner Mary Claire Friesema says business is down 99 percent and she has about 45 days of cash left to stay afloat.

“It felt a little bit hopeless for a short while,” she told CPR's Nathaniel Minor. “[But] my tendency is to start figuring out what else to do.”

— Chuck Murphy

10:50 a.m. — From quarantine, Sen. Cory Gardner says he supports federal help

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner touted the importance of federal stimulus measures to help deal with the economic fallout of coronavirus.

At a virtual townhall broadcast on his website Saturday morning, Gardner acknowledged the extraordinary nature of the crisis. 

“This is unprecedented in scale, scope and cost,” said Gardner, a Republican. “That’s why these bills that Congress is passing are so critically important to making sure our economy can snap back.”

On Wednesday, President Trump signed a $100-billion aid package, that includes emergency paid leave and free testing for COVID-19. Gardner missed the vote, because he was in self-quarantine after potentially being exposed to the virus. (His self-quarantine ends March 25, according to his staff, and so far he shows no symptoms.)

This morning, Politico reported that lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering a $2 trillion stimulus -- double the $1 trillion package reportedly under consideration earlier this week. 

Governors have ordered thousands of businesses to close their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. In Colorado, 25,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits, and state economists warned of significant budget shortfalls in the coming fiscal year. 

— Ben Markus

10:31 a.m. — Southwest Colorado gets easier access to in-state coronavirus news

People with Dish Network in Durango are now able to watch two Denver TV stations, a move apparently hastened by the coronavirus. The service said it has reached agreements to stream KMGH (ABC) and KDVR (Fox) to the region.

Dish says it is still in negotiations to stream Denver’s CBS and NBC affiliates to La Plata County as well.

“As the state confronts the COVID-19 crisis, DISH is pleased to offer subscribers in La Plata County access to Colorado-based news and information,” Jeff Blum, DISH SVP of Public Policy and Government Affairs said in the press release announcing the switch.

Southwestern Colorado has long gotten its local stations from Albuquerque instead of Denver. For a long time, the fight to bring Denver TV to the area has focused as much on Broncos games as the news, but the need to stay on top of rapidly developing coronavirus policies from the governor’s office ramped up the urgency of the situation.

Sen. Michael Bennet said in a news release that he and fellow Sen. Cory Gardner, along with Rep. Scott Tipton and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, appealed to cable companies and the Denver-based broadcasters to reach an agreement.

— Megan Verlee

9:57 a.m. — Watch an update from the White House

The White House coronavirus task force will give an update at 11:00 a.m.

— Nathaniel Minor

7:42 a.m. — Today's not a good day to go to Rocky Mountain National Park

Good morning, Colorado.

After a stressful week, many of us will be excited to get outside this weekend. But as beautiful as Rocky Mountain National Park is sure to be after the snowfall this week, you should cross it off your destination list.

It's closed.

The town of Estes Park asked for the closure. Yosemite National Park has also shut down, reportedly at the request of the local health department. A lot of tourist areas are worried that visitors will come and overwhelm local medical providers.

So, getting outside is still good for your health, but please do it responsibly.

— Rachel Estabrook

Looking for Friday's updates? You'll find them right here.

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