Colorado Coronavirus Updates For April 29: Reopenings, Testing, Cases And More

sue carbaugh, r m
David Zalubowski/AP
Sue Carbaugh, owner of Windmills and Wildflowers, adjusts her face mask as she works to reopen her business while still dealing with the dangers of the new coronavirus Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Castle Rock, Colo.

This post collects all of our updates and reporting on the coronavirus in Colorado for Wednesday, April 29, 2020. You can find Thursday's updates here. Our original play-by-play of reporting continues below.

2:48 p.m. — Texas AG leaned on Gunnison on behalf of his campaign donors, AP finds

Records reviewed by The Associated Press show that an exclusive group of Texans stood to benefit when the state's attorney general, Ken Paxton, urged Gunnison County (a small Colorado county not in Texas) to reverse a public health order during the coronavirus outbreak. 

On April 3, Gunnison County issued an order that required non-residents to leave the county, saying it’s a drain on resources and they pose a greater infection risk. In response, Paxton told Gunnison that banning Texans from their property in Colorado during the outbreak was unconstitutional. 

Records show that among those who stood to benefit was a college classmate of Paxton's whose donation helped him launch his run for attorney general. A Paxton spokesman said it's normal for the attorney general to speak with Texas residents about Texas issues. 

Read the AP’s full report here.

— Associated Press

2:07 p.m. — Coronavirus drives calls to the state crisis hotline

In April, 60 percent of calls to a hotline intended to help Coloradans in crisis were made due to concerns related to COVID-19.

The Colorado Crisis Services line had record-breaking call volume in February and March, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services. Calls are up by 37 percent over this time last year. People are calling for things like financial and relationship stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and substance use.

Coloradans can access the hotline via phone, text and online.

The phone calls have also lasted two to four minutes longer than usual, averaging 11 to 13 minutes.

— Natalia Navarro

12:39 p.m. — Gov. Polis' latest update on the coronavirus in Colorado

The governor's remarks are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today. CPR News will offer live coverage once he starts speaking. Find a signal near you, click on "Listen Live" above or ask your smart speaker to "Play CPR News."

Here's what we hope to hear about as the governor talks about testing.

11:37 a.m. — Firefighters added to CDC priority testing guidance

Getting tested for the novel coronavirus still remains an issue for many parts of the country, including Colorado. Thanks to some congressional nudging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its testing guidance to include first responders and firefighters as part of the high priority coronavirus testing category.

Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse pushed the effort to ensure first responders are treated like other health care professionals when it comes to testing. He led a congressional letter and was joined by dozens of U.S. House members, including fellow Coloradan Reps. Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn, both Republican, and Democrat Ed Perlmutter.

“Firefighters, police officers and first responders across our nation are on the frontlines of assisting citizens during this pandemic and it is absolutely essential that they have access to coronavirus testing so they can continue to execute their duties in the field without fear of infecting the communities they serve,” Neguse said.

In Northern Colorado, Poudre Fire Chief Tom DeMint said he was grateful to see the change. As he pointed out, many firefighters also serve as paramedics.

“Firefighters, first responders are out on the front line,” he said. “The first ones to contact the patients.”

The change makes sense and helps improve public safety, he said. “When someone gets exposed or needs to be tested, have symptoms, it could mean entire fire stations getting closed down for a while.”

That’s a scenario DeMint would like to avoid, especially as wildfire season gets underway. Three of his firefighters, out of his department of 225, have tested positive for COVID-19.

— Caitlyn Kim

10:10 a.m. — Testing in the workplace. Can it help?

Colorado businesses are starting to ask that very question — and figuring out how to do it — as the state slowly reopens the economy.

Public health experts and think tanks have called for widespread testing to help assure people it's safe to restart businesses. Employers could find out if the virus is spreading among their workforce. Customers could be assured workers at a shop or restaurant aren’t contagious.

There are still a lot of questions. Here’s a quick guide to how tests can — and can’t — protect a workplace.

— Sam Brasch

9:49 a.m. — Catholic masses postponed another week

The Archdiocese of Denver has extended its suspension of public Masses through May 8.

Masses were canceled in mid-March when Gov. Polis banned gatherings of 250 people or more. The original suspension was supposed to end Thursday.

The Archdiocese hasn’t finalized what in-person services will look like yet but there will be attendance restrictions, social distancing and other temporary changes.

Under the state's "safer-at-home" order rules vary from county to county. The Archdiocese said it's working on a plan that will work for all parishes.

— Hayley Sanchez

9:33 a.m. — Colorado Springs isolation shelter expects greater testing

Since opening, the city's isolation shelter has seen around 30 people experiencing homelessness, though it's unknown if they were positive for the new coronavirus.

Jennifer Mariano, the director of homeless programs with Community Health Partnerships, said it's hard to predict what will happen with the spread of the virus as El Paso County slowly eases restrictions.

"There's a lot of variables at play, which I mean, it's not unique to us, but there's just so many 'what if' questions out there," she said. "And how do we pivot and respond to that without completely fatiguing all the people that we're working with."

The shelter recently received some coronavirus test kits and will begin testing people this week. The plan is for the shelter to stay open for 90 days, and Mariano said they're in talks about what a phase 2 could look like down the line.

— Elena Rivera

9:23 a.m. — Polis to speak today

The governor has promised a deep dive on coronavirus testing and it is expected that he will provide that today. Polis' remarks are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. MDT from the west foyer of the state Capitol. Colorado Public Radio will carry live coverage. Find a signal near you or ask your smart speaker to "Play CPR News."

7:29 a.m. — Greeley will furlough employees

In a Tuesday announcement, the City of Greeley said it would furlough, with benefits, 85 employees. The Northern Colorado city cited the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus as the reason. The furloughs will start on May 1.

Greeley said it anticipates between a 10 and 20 percent budget cut due to lost sales tax and other revenue.

The furloughed employees are almost 9 percent of the city workforce. That's on top of the temporary layoffs of seasonal, temp and hourly employees that had already occurred as of April 1.

— Jim Hill

7:06 a.m. — Trump uses executive authority to keep meatpacking plants open

President Donald Trump has ordered meat processing plants to remain open amid concerns over growing coronavirus cases and the impact on the nation’s food supply.

An executive order signed Tuesday by the president uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to keep plants open and prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves.

Unions in the U.S. meatpacking industry say the president is jeopardizing lives and prioritizing cold cuts over workers' health. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said 20 food-processing and meatpacking union workers in the U.S. have died of the virus. And they say the country can't have a secure food supply unless workers are kept safe.

More than 20 meatpacking plants have closed temporarily because of the outbreak. That includes the JBS plant in Greeley which reopened on April 24 under an agreement with Weld County that didn't test all of the employees. There have been four deaths confirmed from novel coronavirus at the plant and the local union adds there has been a fifth.

— Associated Press, Jim Hill

6:53 a.m. — At least 238 inmates at Sterling Correctional Facility have COVID-19

Widespread testing at the prison in northeastern Colorado has now resulted in 238 positive cases, an increase of 100 cases since preliminary numbers were released lastFriday.

The Sterling prison is now the site of the largest known outbreak in the state.

Nearly 500 prisoners were tested after a number of cases were identified in the east wing. The Corrections Department said four of the COVID-19 positive inmates are currently hospitalized. 

Only one other prison, the facility in Buena Vista, has had an inmate test positive for the virus. The Department of Corrections said it is working with the state health department to determine the next steps for more testing in its facilities.

Colorado’s prison chief has warned that cases are likely to rise in the state’s prisons and has been trying to reduce inmate populations to make social distancing possible. Prisoners in Sterling are lockdown and are confined to their cells for most hours of the day.

— Megan Verlee

6:32 a.m. — Public health prosecutions of people are rare

Even as some coronavirus-related restrictions begin to lift, many parts of the state still ban large private gatherings and other threats to public health. However, in most cases, authorities only issue warnings when they learn of the infraction.

Tolerance for violating the state's public health order, in and of itself, is pretty high. If you throw a big house party and the cops are called, they're not likely to give you a ticket or issue a summons for something like that. But if someone goes beyond violating the order, to putting people purposefully at risk of this deadly disease, or even just trying to make people more afraid, that's when prosecutors are really bringing down the hammer.

In some cases, District Attorneys have added violating the public health order on top of other charges, such as driving under the influence.

It's a different story for businesses. In Denver, 23 have been cited so far for violations of the city's stay-at-home order. That includes four issued in the last few days. These businesses include places like smoke shops, a Hobby Lobby, a GameStop, and more recently, a hair and beauty supply store.

Citations can result in a fine of up to $999 or even jail time if a judge decides.

— Allison Sherry, Esteban Hernandez

Tuesday's Live Blog.