Colorado Coronavirus Updates For March 23: Closures, Testing, Cases And More

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Customers lined up around Argonaut Liquors on Colfax Avenue and left with carts piled high on Monday, March 23 after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock ordered liquor stores and pot shops to be closed by 5 p.m. Tuesday to combat coronavirus.

Editor's Note: This post collects all of our reporting for Monday, March 23 on the coronavirus in Colorado. You can find the updates for Tuesday here. Our original play-by-play of reporting continues below.

9:30 p.m. — Good night live blog

Here are some stories not about the coronavirus:

May your sleep be well and your liquor cabinet stocked.

6:07 p.m. — DIYers, put down your needle and thread. Homemade masks should only be "a last resort"

Many people are taking to their own sewing machines to make masks since the novel coronavirus pandemic caused a medical mask shortage.

People are sharing patterns for the masks on NextDoor or Facebook. Janine Meyers of Longmont, a semi-retired nurse who ran a seamstress business before her nursing job, has seen the posts and wants to help.

But she had a question for Colorado Wonders:

“I would like to get together some seamstresses (or) home sewers that could possibly start this, but I wouldn't want to start making a lot unless we knew exactly what kind of fabrics to use that the medical profession (will) be able to use them, with them functioning properly,” Meyers said.

She has worked mostly in long-term care facilities and knows that medical masks use a particular material. But Meyers thought in this time of need maybe other versions would work — any scrap material, for example. Or if those wouldn’t work for doctors, what about the general public?

“I'm kind of just wondering if we made a bunch of masks. if we stood out in front of King Soopers and handed them out ... I mean that's the way to go too, right?” Meyers said.

Actually, it’s not the way to go according to public health officials.

The CDC says handmade masks are not recommended unless it’s “a last resort.” The agency says medical professionals who resort to using handmade masks should also wear a plastic face shield, which tells you how much faith they have in the DIY masks.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment guidelines stress that if you are not sick, there is no need to wear any mask. Continuing to sneeze or cough into your elbow, wash your hands thoroughly and clean surfaces regularly will be enough.

But if you are sick, yes, you should wear a mask — just one that is medical grade, not handmade.

— Kelley Griffin

5:43 p.m. — Colorado legislators ask Trump for federal funding for the Colorado National Guard

Colorado’s congressional delegation has written to President Donald Trump, urging him to approve federal funding for Colorado’s National Guard.

According to the letter, Gov. Jared Polis intends to use the Colorado National Guard to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak across the state and would need to increase the force to full-time status.

“We urge your prompt approval of this request so the Governor may fully task the Colorado National Guard as he finds necessary to support the state’s COVID-19 response efforts,” the letter read.

All members of the delegation, save Rep. Ken Buck, signed onto the letter.

CPR reached out to Buck’s office for comment and will update this post when we get a response.

Trump has approved the National Guard designation for New York, California and Washington, some of the states hardest hit by the new coronavirus in the country. This means while the Guard will report to governors, the federal government will pick up the entire cost. Usually the federal government, state government split is 75-25.

About 70 members of the Colorado National Guard have been helping CDPHE with coronavirus testing throughout the state.

Brigadier General Scott Sherman, Director of the Joint Staff for the Colorado National Guard, said while today was the last day of this testing mission, he said planning is going on at the state emergency operations center.

“As we find out what needs to be done, both logistics, testing, whatever else the state will need,” Sherman said, “I expect that our missions will increase.”

— Caitlyn Kim

5:34 p.m. — More people are buying guns now than in the period following the Newtown and Aurora mass shootings

Brennan Linsley/AP Photo
In this Feb. 23, 2016 photo, gun safety and suicide prevention brochures on display next to guns for sale at a local retail gun store in Montrose, Colo.

Panic buying during the coronavirus outbreak has extended to guns.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation reports an “unprecedented” 25,468 background checks for firearms in the last week, an increase of 227 percent over the same timeframe from last year.

If this pace continues, it will push March to an all-time monthly record for gun sales.

This volume exceeds the run on firearms in late 2012 into early 2013. That binge was prompted by fears of new gun control measures following the Newtown and Aurora mass shootings.

In an ominous sign of the times, some gun buyers said they’re merely looking to protect their home and family. Some complained they waited hours this weekend to complete the transaction.

CBI said that if background check times exceed three business days, stores and other licences dealers can release the firearm to the buyer.

“However, the CBI strongly encourages firearms dealers to hold firearms until background checks are completed.”

— Ben Markus

5:06 p.m. — Denverites, your neighborhood liquor store and dispensary will stay open after all

The City and County of Denver is relaxing those liquor store and recreational marijuana dispensary rules within hours of Mayor Michael Hancock's stay-at-home announcement.

The change comes after a lot of frenzied shoppers raced to buy up booze and marijuana.

Coronavirus Hancock Closes Marijuana Stores
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Customers lined up for more than a block at AMCH Dispensary in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood on Monday, March 23 after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock ordered liquor stores and pot shops to be closed by 5 p.m. Tuesday to combat coronavirus. The order was reversed in a few hours.
Coronavirus Hancock Closes Marijuana Stores
Customers lined up outside the LivWell dispensary on South Broadway in Denver on Monday, March 23.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Customers lined up around Argonaut Liquors on Colfax Avenue and left with carts piled high on Monday, March 23 after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock ordered liquor stores and pot shops to be closed by 5 p.m. Tuesday to combat coronavirus. The order was reversed within a few hours.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Customers lined up around Argonaut Liquors on Colfax Avenue and left with carts piled high on Monday, March 23.

— Alex Scoville

5:02 p.m. — As more inmates are tested, DOC suspends arrests of parolees for low-level violations and makes other adjustments

State Department of Corrections officials announced additional policy changes within state prisons and for people out on parole in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Nine people have been tested for COVID-19 so far in state prisons — six of the tests were negative and three are pending.

Parole officials are temporarily suspending arrests of parolees for low-level technical parole violations — this includes people not working and those who skip appointments.

State Corrections will also look at the list of people who are currently in jail for low-level technical parole violations to determine if any of them could be released and managed in other ways.

In the state prisons, officials say they are reducing staffing levels to let guards maintain social distances, while still keeping the facilities safe. They plan to set up video visitations for people inside, since they halted all visitations earlier this month.

— Allison Sherry

4:38 p.m. — Colorado is tripling staffing for unemployment hotlines

Coronavirus Cherry Cricket Restaurant Layoffs
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Marissa Pfenning is the bar manager at Denver’s Cherry Cricket. Starting Tuesday, March 17, 2020, she is also part of the kitchen staff after the restaurant’s owners had to furlough most of its employees and switch to pick-up or curb-side orders during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is making changes to catch up with unprecedented demand for unemployment benefits.

Starting today, CDLE has reassigned workers to increase its call-center staff from 70 employees to 160 employees. Over the next two weeks, the state will hire another 90 employees to help with the call center and unemployment document management.

The call center received about 186,000 attempted calls before 8 a.m. on Monday. The hotline can advise people about unemployment benefits, but its staff cannot fill out applications. That can only be done through the state’s unemployment website, which is buckling under extreme demand due to mass layoffs at restaurants, resorts and other businesses.

CDLE will introduce a new, mandatory scheduling system to spread out demand.

People with last names beginning with the letters A through M will be allowed to file claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays or afternoon on Saturday. People with last names beginning with the letters N through Z can file on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and before noon on Saturday.

The hotline is available at 303-318-9000 or 1-800-388-5515. The unemployment website is

— Andy Kenney

4:35 p.m. — Colorado now has 720 cases

New data from state health officials shows 720 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Colorado. That's an increase of 129 total cases over yesterday's numbers.

The state is now reporting seven deaths due to COVID-19.

There are also now 72 patients hospitalized, an increase of 14.

Health officials ran nearly 800 tests in the past day.

— Alex Scoville

3:52 p.m. — Here’s your afternoon ode to joy

No common rehearsal space? No problem, as the Colorado Symphony proves in this video as they perform Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” together, apart.

— Alex Scoville

3:12 p.m. — Watch an update from the White House

The coronavirus task force will hold a briefing at 3:30 p.m. CPR will carry it live on air, or you can watch live below.

2:32 p.m. — More on Denver's stay-at-home order

Coronavirus Colfax and Hwy 40 From Bennet top the Buffalo Herd Overlook
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A non-existent morning rush hour on Colfax, viewed from Federal Boulevard. The morning after Gov. Jared Polis advised people to stay home, Colfax Avenue from Bennet on up into the mountains where it becomes Hwy 40, was a ghost of its normal self — although some facets of life carried on as usual, Monday, March 23, 2020.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock unveiled a stay-at-home order for the city and county on Monday.

The order will go into effect at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and stay in place through April 10.

"This isn't a recommendation anymore. People need to stay at home," Hancock said.

As of Sunday evening, 591 people in Colorado have tested positive for COVID-19, and six people have died. The majority of positive cases, 125, are in Denver.

You can watch the mayor's press conference on our Facebook page.

The mayor said seeing people at parks having picnics and playing volleyball and basketball games convinced him the stay-at-home order was necessary.

Hancock also encouraged people to donate blood and to not panic buy. He also reminded businesses to follow Gov. Jared Polis' new work recommendations. He said 90 percent of Denver's municipal workforce has moved to work from home practices.

Under the work-from-home order, restaurants will still be able to deliver food. Parks will remain open, but playgrounds will close. Denverites can still take walks or go on hikes if they maintain the recommended six-foot distance from others.

Liquor stores and dispensaries will close at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Liquor stores will not be allowed to deliver.

Polis issued a statement in support of the announcement:

“Last week, San Miguel issued a stay at home order for non-critical functions and additional isolation measures were also taken in Gunnison, Eagle, and Summit counties. Today the city and county of Denver issued a similar order.

I’m strongly in support of these local efforts, and it’s extremely important that just as our state is acting boldly and urgently, that our county health departments are also taking strong actions guided by science, data, and the real-life situation on the ground including taking into account local factors like population density and concentration of Coronavirus cases, to best contain the spread of the virus.

Thank you to Mayor Hancock and other local leaders making strong moves to reduce the spread of the virus in communities across our state.”

Read the full story on Denverite.

— Esteban Hernandez and Alex Scoville

1:16 p.m. — Sorry foodies: Aspen Food & Wine is canceled

The Aspen Food & Wine Classic, due to take place June 19-21, has been called off.

Ticket holders can either get a full refund or transfer their tickets to next year's event.

"When this pandemic subsides, the world will need us all at the table—at restaurants, hotels, bars, and festivals—sharing our cultures like never before. Until then, please look after yourselves and one another," Food & Wine editor-in-chief Hunter Lewis said in a statement.

— Alex Scoville

1:10 p.m. — Montrose is the latest Colorado city to get a mobile test site

Montrose will soon offer drive-through testing to about 100 high-risk patients.

The state’s health department sent testing resources Monday to the high-desert city of about 20,000 people. The Colorado National Guard will staff the testing site, which will serve people who’ve been pre-selected by local health care providers. Walk-up patients will not be accepted.

The testing stems from a partnership between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the state national guard and Montrose County.

In the last two weeks, the Colorado National Guard’s mobile testing unit and CDPHE have completed tests on more than 800 people in Denver, Telluride, Pueblo and Salida.

— Stina Sieg

1:04 p.m. — Denver, get ready to stay at home

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock provides an update on coronavirus in Colorado on Friday, March 13.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is expected to unveil a stay at home order during a 2 p.m. press conference.

The announcement will be part of an update on the city's COVID-19 response.

We'll update you with more information as we receive it.

— Alex Scoville

12:13 p.m. — State Sen. Jim Smallwood is second Colorado lawmaker to test positive for COVID-19

A second Colorado lawmaker has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican from Parker, received his test results on Sunday.
Smallwood, 49, is in quarantine at his second home in Carlsbad, California, according to Colorado Senate Republicans. He plans to stay in isolation there until March 31.

Smallwood experienced symptoms on two days last week, March 16 and 17, soon after the Colorado legislature temporarily adjourned.

Smallwood appeared to be the second Colorado lawmaker to be diagnosed with the respiratory illness — but he's actually the first.

Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet said today that a doctor had misinterpreted her COVID-19 test results. She actually has a different coronavirus, but she'll remain in isolation.

The legislature will not meet again until the end of the month and may extend its break if necessary.

— Andy Kenney

11:51 a.m. — IOC says it has not made a 2020 Olympics decision after one member suggests it will be postponed

Update 4:59 p.m.: The International Olympic Committee released a statement later this afternoon rebuking that the decision to postpone had already been made.

"The IOC pledged to announce its findings within the next four weeks and statements made today by IOC member Dick Pound, though not confirmed by the IOC or Tokyo 2020, suggest the decision to postpone the Games may have already been determined," the statement read.

IOc member Dick Pound on Monday had told USA Today that the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be postponed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Pound went on to say the Games will likely be held over until 2021, though full details are still being worked out according to the story. Pound said that he thinks the IOC will "announce its next steps soon."

— Dan Schneider and Tasha Watts

11:19 a.m. — Weiser urges courts to extend speedy trial deadlines

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on Monday released a statement urging state courts to reschedule criminal trials in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"In the face of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, conducting criminal trials at this time risks jeopardizing all of those individuals, as well as the general public," Weiser said in the statement, noting that criminal trials require numerous people to report in person, including jurors, witnesses, attorneys, defendants, judges and other court staff.

"Under Colorado’s speedy trial statute, criminal charges must be entirely dismissed if a case does not proceed to trial by a certain deadline," Weiser's statement noted. To extend the trial dates, both the prosecution and defense must agree to "restart the clock" or extend the deadline.

When the parties can't agree, judges have some latitude to postpone trials on certain circumstances, including when evidence material to the state's case in unavailable, to allow additional time for the state to prepare its case or other "exceptional circumstances." Weiser suggests the current pandemic qualifies under various circumstances:

“Being unable to safely conduct trials causes ‘evidence material to the state’s case’ to be ‘unavailable.’ Likewise, the inability to safely conduct trials justifies a delay ‘to allow the prosecuting attorney additional time in felony cases to prepare the state’s case,’ and the additional time is justified because of ‘exceptional circumstances.’”

"It is essential that Colorado’s courts recognize that our speedy trial deadlines can and should be interpreted in a way that keeps judges, jurors, witnesses, attorneys, defendants, and other Coloradans safe," Weiser concluded.

— Dan Schneider

10:00 a.m. — Hey, Colorado Congressional District 7!

9:51 a.m. — More homegrown COVID-19 tests

National Jewish Health said it has developed a COVID-19 diagnostic test. The hospital began testing over the weekend starting with hospitalized patients and health care workers. They said they plan to expand testing to the broader community soon.

National Jewish also established an Acute Respiratory Clinic for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. The hospital hoped it will help take the pressure off emergency facilities.

Denver Health got it's own in-house testing last week.

— Natalia Navarro

9:38 a.m. — How are you feeling about things?

An Americano poses for a portrait at Mutiny Coffee
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An Americano poses for a portrait at the Mutiny Coffee window on South Broadway on Friday March 20, 2020.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has a short survey out where they ask Coloradans — YOU! — a few questions about the outbreak, experiences and some questions about your behaviors and attitudes.

Why not give them a hand and fill it out?

— Jim Hill

9:00 a.m. — Not a good day for flights at DIA

Nearly 550 flights have been canceled at the Denver airport today. Denver International Airport said it is not due to weather or anything on their end. Each airline makes cancelation decisions on its own. Instead, flights are likely canceled due to low demand or staffing issues, the airport said. The CDC has recommended people avoid travel to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

— Natalia Navarro

8:12 a.m. — What's going to happen to the Tokyo Olympics?

The head of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said she's more focused on bringing solutions to the IOC than demanding it postpones this summer's Tokyo Games. There are growing calls for the games to be delayed because of the spreading coronavirus crisis.

The IOC said it could need up to four more weeks to decide what to do. As CEO of the USOPC, which is based in Colorado Springs, Sarah Hirshland has endured criticism for not pushing harder for a delay.

Hirshland said she's gathering information from more than 4,000 U.S. athletes about their training and health conditions. Also, she said the IOC will hear plenty about Americans' opinions.

— The Associated Press

7:46 a.m. — Waiting on Congress to move a coronavirus aid package

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., strides to the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner said "Congress must act now" — this after the U.S. Senate failed to move a third coronavirus relief package forward Sunday.

The price tag for the package Senate Republicans are pushing is almost $2 trillion. The GOP usually advocates for smaller government and balanced budgets, but via Skype, Gardner said this crisis is unprecedented.

"The economic damage is not a red or blue or left or right issue," he said. "It’s making sure we all get through this in a way that moves our economy forward."

It might be a tough sell to Republicans in the House. Republican Rep. Ken Buck voted against both previous coronavirus relief packages. He said policy decisions shouldn’t be based on fear or panic.

While most want to get it done, Democratic Rep. Jason Crow said they also want to get it right. For him, he's focused on how funds sent to larger companies — like the airline industry — would be used.

"These are companies that have done stock buybacks and other things," he said. "Want to make sure it’s going to support operations – the airlines can continue to fly – but also support workers."

Negotiations over the bill continue in the Senate, NPR reports. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate "can and will" overcome their differences.

— Caitlyn Kim

7:33 a.m. — Colorado's frontline health care workers feel the strain

Pool photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
A woman sets up for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment first community testing center for COVID-19 at the state lab on March 11, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The drive-up testing center at 8100 E. Lowry Blvd, was open from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m for patients with doctorÕs order.

As COVID-19 makes its way around the state, Colorado’s thousands of health care workers are putting in longer hours, stressing about hospital preparations and worrying about contracting the virus and bringing it home.

“This can be a really tough time for caregivers, and our providers and employees who are taking care of patients on a daily basis and all at the same time dealing with their own concerns,” said Anjanette Mosebar, the vice president of human resources for UCHealth.

Even before the outbreak, UCHealth offered employees a full package of mental health benefits, including counseling, a 24-hour crisis hotline and an employee leave program for times of hardship. Since the virus has arrived in Denver, they’ve launched additional training programs to help health care workers deal with the mental toll of the outbreak. Over the last several weeks Mosebar said they’ve seen an uptick in the number of employees making calls and scheduling counseling.

— Lindsay Fendt

6:40 a.m. — Polis looking for more work from home, social distancing

In his Sunday news conference, Gov. Jared Polis told non-essential businesses to cut the number of workers in the office by 50 percent, and more if possible.

He urged them to have multiple shifts, spread people out and have people telecommute. Polis said that he expects private businesses to comply with the order by Tuesday.

He also once again urged Coloradans to proactively stay home whenever possible. While the state was not wielding enforcement authority to keep people at home, he said that there is a more severe enforcement authority.

"There's a far greater enforcement authority in these matters and his name is the Grim Reaper," Polis intoned.

He said individual actions are a life and death matter.

— John Daley

6:23 a.m. — Here's where cases stand to start this week

There are 591 known positive cases of COVID-19 in Colorado. The new numbers cover cases through Friday, March 21. Fifty-eight have been hospitalized across 29 counties.

At least six people in Colorado are now confirmed to have died from the new coronavirus, including a well-known Vail musician. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported Saturday that five had died through Friday, and Eagle County officials announced that a death occurred there Saturday morning. The Vail Daily reported that family and friends identified the victim in Eagle County as Rod Powell, a singer and guitarist who had delighted apres-ski crowds for decades.

The state also confirmed five outbreaks that have been tied to residential and/or non-hospital health care facilities.

— Jim Hill, The Associated Press

Looking for the weekend live blog? You can find it here.