More than eight months into the coronavirus pandemic in Colorado, cases and hospitalizations are rising once again. State health officials have warned that if the trend doesn’t abate, Colorado’s hospital capacity could be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.

To help you stay updated as the situation evolves, The Colorado Sun has launched this live blog with updates on closures, restrictions, and other COVID-19 developments.

You can also check out our map of Colorado coronavirus cases and deaths here, as well as charts showing the national and international COVID-19 situation. That page is updated daily.

(Email questions, comments, concerns and/or tips to newsroom@coloradosun.com)


“It’s like Lady Gaga tickets”: Colorado health officials need help managing vaccine demand

9:17 AM | 01-14-2021?

At Lyon’s Corner Drug, a historic pharmacy and old-fashioned soda fountain on the main strip in Steamboat Springs, more than 100 older residents lined up on a bitter cold morning when the temperature dipped to single digits. 

The pharmacists’ children, two of them dressed as Disney princesses, delivered ice cream and caramels to the folks waiting for their coronavirus vaccines. Nearby businesses passed out free coffee and donuts. 

The vaccine clinic last Sunday — thrown together in two days after a box of 100 doses arrived at the pharmacy via FedEx — was the kind of small-town event that epitomizes the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine in rural Colorado. Through word of mouth, social media and even sticky notes on the public health director’s desk reminding her to call an 80-year-old man who doesn’t use a computer, rural counties are trying to vaccinate residents in priority order and make sure no one falls through the cracks. 

Read the whole story here.

Jennifer Brown and John Ingold, Staff writers


How many Coloradans need to get vaccinated to reach coronavirus herd immunity? It’s complicated.

9:14 AM | 01-14-2021?

On Wednesday, Colorado officially crossed the 209,000 mark for the number of people who have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine — meaning that more than 3% of the state’s population is now on its way to immunity through inoculation.

But how much further do we still have to go?

The launch of the vaccination campaign reignites questions about what it means to reach “herd immunity” in the state — that glorious threshold shrouded in the mind’s eye in a magical fog, for beyond that point lies normalcy. More technically, once enough people in a community are immune from a virus to reach herd immunity, the virus can’t find enough susceptible people to jump into and the local epidemic begins to die out.

There’s a problem with this clean, perfect image of herd immunity, though. It is, alas, not quite as simple as it seems.

Read the whole story here.

–John Ingold, Staff writer


Colorado has now confirmed 5 cases of more contagious coronavirus variant

9:10 AM | 01-14-2021?

Colorado health officials have now confirmed five cases of a coronavirus variant that’s thought to be far more contagious as they step up surveillance for the version of the disease that caused cases to soar in the United Kingdom.

The latest confirmed case is in a person in their 20s in Boulder County, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release Wednesday. Further details were not released.

The state says it will start sharing a daily count of confirmed cases of the variant, known as B.1.1.7. The variant is thought to be as much as 70% more transmissible than the regular strain of COVID-19.

Read the whole story here.

–Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado is about to change its coronavirus vaccine priority list — again

1:20 PM | 01-12-2021?

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday that the state will soon announce more changes to its priority list for the coronavirus vaccine, with people between the ages of 65 and 69 and possibly others being moved up.

The changes are in response to expected new guidance from the federal government, which will also reportedly recommend giving greater priority to adults of any age with serious underlying medical conditions.

At a Tuesday news conference, Polis said the state will “of course” adopt the forthcoming federal guidance. He said the state will soon release a new priority list, with those ages 65 to 69 becoming eligible in a couple weeks to receive the vaccine.

But Polis also said the state doesn’t want the new group to leapfrog ahead of seniors age 70 and over.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Denver Broncos players ask Colorado governor to release more prisoners in ACLU ad

11:56 AM | 01-12-2021?
Denver Broncos player De’Vante Bausby is featured in an ACLU ad released Jan. 12, 2021 that claims Governor Jared Polis has only released four inmates from Colorado prisons since the pandemic began. The governor has granted clemency to four people, but executive orders have resulted in hundreds of prisoners released since March. (Screenshot)

Three Denver Broncos players are featured in an ad urging Gov. Jared Polis to release inmates as coronavirus spreads through Colorado prisons.

The 45-second ad produced by the ACLU of Colorado includes star players Justin Simmons, Alexander Johnson and De’Vante Bausby. It is part of the ACLU’s national Redemption Campaign, which aims to release thousands of prisoners who are not a public safety risk through gubernatorial clemency, according to a news release.

“Governor, we ask you to do more,” Simmons says in the ad, which is airing Tuesday night on 9News, as well as running on websites and as a print version in the Denver Post, according to an ACLU spokesperson.

Animated text in the ad misleadingly says that the governors of Washington and Kentucky have released hundreds of people from prison, while Polis has only released four. Polis signed an executive order in March that allowed for the early release of inmates because of the pandemic. Colorado Public Radio reports that hundreds were freed as a result.

There were 13,473 inmates in Colorado’s state and private prisons as of Dec. 30, according to a Colorado Department of Corrections spokesperson, down from 17,412 on March 3. The Colorado Sun reached out to CDOC to clarify how many prisoners were released due to executive orders, but as of publication received no response.

An ACLU spokesperson clarified to The Colorado Sun that the four inmates mentioned in the ad refers to those the governor has granted clemency and does not include inmates released as a result of executive orders.

There are 692 active COVID-19 cases among Colorado inmates as of Monday. Twenty-five inmate deaths have been linked to coronavirus since the pandemic started.

The ad campaign follows legal efforts by the ACLU to force the state to do more to address coronavirus in jails and prisons. Last month, a judge dismissed an ACLU lawsuit that sought to compel Polis to release more prisoners.Just last week, the ACLU came to a temporary agreement with the El Paso County sheriff in a separate lawsuit. The preliminary injunction requires that inmates in the county jail be given masks, undergo daily temperature checks and be monitored by medical staff if they test positive for COVID-19.

–Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


Pitkin County, with Colorado’s highest coronavirus incidence rate, is moving to red-level restrictions

10:33 AM | 01-12-2021?
The Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain in March 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

With the highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Colorado, Pitkin County will close indoor dining at restaurants Sunday and move fully into red-level restrictions.

Monday’s unanimous decision by the seven members of the Pitkin County Board of Health also includes a 50% capacity limit on lodging in Aspen and Snowmass Village and assurances by Aspen Skiing Co. to improve COVID-19 protocols.

Ski mountains will remain open without a reservation system for the time being, though indoor dining at on-mountain restaurants will cease.

Read the whole story here.

— Jason Auslander, The Aspen Times


Colorado will rework its dial system once people age 70 and older are vaccinated, governor says

10:19 AM | 01-12-2021?
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, left, makes a few remarks to the media as he watches Gina Harper, clinical coordinator with pharmacy, reconstitute a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before it is administered to the first patients in Colorado at UC Health Poudre Valley Hospital on Dec. 14, 2020 in Fort Collins. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, Pool)

Colorado will make changes to its coronavirus dial system in the spring to reduce restrictions on businesses and people’s movement once a majority of those age 70 and older are vaccinated, Gov. Jared Polis said.

People older than 70 account for about half of the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and roughly 75% of its coronavirus deaths. Colorado is planning to vaccinate 70% of people in that age group by the end of February, Polis said in an interview with The Colorado Sun. 

“There will be an intermediary phase where there is enough vaccine in enough people where many of the most vulnerable are protected but the pandemic is still here,” Polis said. “… That changes how we look at hospital capacity and restrictions that hurt people’s emotions and psychology or their ability to support themselves.” 

That phase will require “a more sustainable and different way of looking at things,” the governor, a Democrat, said. More emphasis will be placed on the social-emotional and economic crises that have paralleled the public health emergency.

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Fueled by coronavirus, Colorado saw an extraordinary increase in deaths in 2020

10:19 AM | 01-12-2021?

Deaths in Colorado from all causes saw an astonishing increase in 2020, growing by at least 18%, compared to the low single-digit percentage increases of prior years.

The numbers are still preliminary and will likely increase because it takes time for death certificates to be finalized and recorded by federal and state health officials. But even early figures show the extraordinary impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on mortality in Colorado.

As of Monday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had recorded 46,510 deaths in Colorado for 2020, an 18.3% increase over the previous year. In 2019, the state saw 39,313 deaths, up 2.2% from 2018, according to CDPHE figures. Between 2010 and 2019, Colorado averaged a 2.5% increase in deaths per year. The state’s population grew by about 1.5% per year during that time period, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Colorado lawmakers will get access to COVID-19 vaccine ahead of thousands of others in second phase

5:42 PM | 01-11-2021?
The Colorado Capitol on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado lawmakers will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine for the 2021 lawmaking term that begins Wednesday, likely moving them ahead of hundreds of thousands of others in the state’s second inoculation phase. 

House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, confirmed that members of the General Assembly are being prioritized. Legislators are expected to receive two doses of a vaccine by Feb. 16, when the lawmaking term is expected to begin in earnest, about two weeks before when the state is hoping to have vaccinated a majority of Coloradans who are 70 and older. 

“I don’t think we are jumping the line,” Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, said Monday. “By no means are we taking vaccines taking away from others that absolutely need it more than us. But I think it’s important for the continuity of our state government that the legislature is able to meet as the constitution requires.”

Not all support the plan. Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, said he will refuse to get the vaccine ahead of others. Instead, he will wait for when he would have received the inoculation if he weren’t a lawmaker. 

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul and John Frank, Staff writers


Convalescent plasma isn’t quite the coronavirus miracle treatment it was supposed to be. What happened?

5:41 PM | 01-11-2021?
Convalescent plasma, the liquid part of blood collected from patients who have recovered from an infection, is still being collected at Vitalant blood centers throughout Colorado. The plasma is taken from the blood of COVID-19 survivors. (Provided by Vitalant)

Back in the spring, the pleas for donated plasma from coronavirus survivors were desperate. Doctors hoped then that the antibodies from survivors’ blood could save the sickest patients from succumbing to the virus. 

Now, 10 months into the pandemic, there is no evidence that convalescent plasma — the liquid part of blood collected from patients who have recovered from an infection — prevents hospitalized COVID-19 patients from getting worse. 

The blood bank at Children’s Hospital Colorado, the first in the state to begin taking convalescent plasma in late March, has suspended its collection. And Denver Health decided after a December review of nationwide data that the hospital will no longer transfuse its patients with the plasma to treat the coronavirus.

It was the miracle treatment that didn’t materialize.

Read the whole story here.

— Jennifer Brown, Staff writer


Coronavirus cases rising again in Colorado as part of possible holiday surge

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Health care workers for the Gunnison County Health and Human Services Department administer COVID-19 tests in below zero temperatures at a mobile testing site set up outside of Crested Butte, Colorado on December. The tests were administered in Crested Butte on Thursday the 17th and in Gunnison on Fridayday the 18th. (Dean Krakel photo, Special to The Colorado Sun)

After weeks of falling case numbers, infections of coronavirus in Colorado are back on the rise — and the timing suggests a possible link to holiday gatherings.

Over the past week, the state has reported an average of about 2,100 new coronavirus infections per day. The 7-day average of new cases has been increasing since Dec. 29.

“We are starting to see the impact of the holidays show up in our data,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, said during a news conference Friday. “There are some early signs that we are seeing a small increase so far following Christmas.”

It takes 10 to 14 days from when an infection is acquired to when it usually shows up in state data. The delay is due to the virus’ incubation period and the length of time it takes someone to get tested and the lab to return the result. That means infections acquired on Christmas Day would have started showing up in state data this week.

Infections acquired related to New Year’s celebrations would likely begin showing up in state data next week. Any impact of moving a number of counties to level-orange on the state’s COVID-19 restrictions dial would start showing up at the end of next week and the beginning of the following week.

Herlihy said modeling projections from the Colorado School of Public Health and researchers at other universities estimate that 1 in 105 Coloradans are currently contagious with the coronavirus. In November, the numbers were as high as 1 in 40 Coloradans.

Colorado saw its greatest surge in virus cases to date just before Thanksgiving. But, after an intense messaging campaign telling people to stay home, the Thanksgiving holiday was not associated with an increase in new cases.

Gov. Jared Polis on Friday reiterated the message that Coloradans need to be careful. Cases are surging across the country. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Colorado, which are down substantially since December, are still as high as they were in April, the peak during the virus’ first wave.

“Now is not the time to hold gatherings with your extended family or friends, or to hold parties,” Polis said.

Herlihy also cautioned that it’s too soon to see an impact on case numbers from the coronavirus vaccination campaign rolling out across the state. Only about 2% of Coloradans have been vaccinated. Herlihy said modeling projections show mask-wearing and social distancing are still the best strategies in the meantime.

“We continue to see a much greater impact from all of those strategies, at least until the early summer, late spring,” she said.

John Ingold, Staff writer


Colorado expands surveillance for more-contagious coronavirus variant, but so far it doesn’t appear widespread

1:47 PM | 01-08-2021?
Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s state epidemiologist, speaks to reporters at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver on Monday, April 20, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado health officials say they are expanding surveillance for a coronavirus variant that is thought to be much more contagious, though they don’t think it’s spreading rapidly across the state.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has so far confirmed three cases of the variant, B.1.1.7, in the state. A fourth person is being investigated as possibly having contracted the variant. 

“We are rapidly expanding our surveillance in the state for not just the B.1.1.7 variant, but all variants,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s top epidemiologist. “Our lab is now receiving specimens from a network of hospitals across the state.”

MORE: Second and third cases of more-contagious coronavirus variant confirmed in Colorado

Herlihy said that will ensure CDPHE’s lab will “see a wide sample of specimens.” The idea is to identify pockets of B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the U.K. and caused a surge in cases in England.

“At this point, we believe that we’re not seeing widespread transmission of the variant right now in Colorado,” she said.

B.1.1.7 is not thought to cause more severe symptoms, and coronavirus vaccines that have been developed have shown to be effective against it.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado’s coronavirus vaccine rollout is confusing and frustrating — but also working, state leaders say

8:59 AM | 01-08-2021?
A health care worker consults with Gretta Wyman, 88, before giving her first of two Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shots, given three weeks apart, at the Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

On Thursday, Colorado Lt. Gov Dianne Primavera did what hundreds of thousands of Coloradans her age are wishing they could also do.

“I’m in the wave that’s getting the COVID vaccine,” Primavera, who is 70 and a cancer survivor, said in a video posted to Facebook as she sat next to a health worker preparing to put a needle into her arm. “I’m excited to be here and I want to encourage everyone who is 70 to sign up, get vaccinated and let’s see an end to this pandemic.”

Almost immediately, the comments on the post began filling up with stories of frustration from across the state, illustrating the turbulent way the coronavirus vaccine has rolled out..

“Pueblo we don’t even have a list for me to get on!” one commenter wrote. “I’m 70+ and nothing from our health department!!”

“I am also a cancer survivor and over 70 but on a wait list,” another wrote.

Months ago, Polis, medical experts and state public health officials mapped out an orderly plan prioritizing when different groups of Coloradans can get the vaccine. But as that plan — now twice revised — has been put to use, the on-the-ground reality so far has been much less orderly.

Read the whole story here.

–John Ingold and Erica Breunlin, Staff writers


Second and third cases of more-contagious coronavirus variant confirmed in Colorado

8:53 AM | 01-08-2021?
Army Veteran Phil Ross, 73, right, celebrates after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Ola Arije, left, at Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. Ross is the first senior-care center resident in Colorado to receive the vaccine. (Pool photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Two more cases of a coronavirus variant that is thought to be more contagious have been confirmed in Colorado, state health officials announced Thursday night.

That means three people total have been confirmed to have the variant in Colorado.

The second case was in a Colorado National Guard member who, like the first person to test positive for the variant in the state, was deployed to the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Simla.

The third case is in a staff member at the Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons, a state-run nursing home in Aurora. There is another staff member at the facility who has contracted coronavirus and is being investigated for having the variant, known at B.1.1.7, as well.

Read the whole story here.

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Immigration status won’t affect when Coloradans receive coronavirus vaccine

10:22 AM | 01-07-2021?
Josiah Jansen, who works in the pharmacy at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, holds up a syringe that will be used to administer Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado will not take into account someone’s immigration status when deciding when they will receive the coronavirus vaccine. 

“Whether you are a U.S. citizen or not, we are all in this together,” a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesperson said in a written statement. “If you would like a vaccine, you will be able to get one according to what vaccine phase you are in. State and local public health agencies will never share your information for any immigration or law enforcement purposes.”

In neighboring Nebraska, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts announced this week that people living in the U.S. illegally will be moved to the back of the vaccine line

“Nebraska is going to prioritize citizens and legal residents ahead of illegal immigrants,” Ricketts’ spokesman wrote on Twitter on Monday.  

CDPHE says people will not have to prove their immigration status before receiving a vaccine. 

“Further, public health will never share your information for any immigration or law enforcement purposes,” an agency spokesperson added.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado teachers and essential workers aren’t slated to receive the coronavirus vaccine until March

11:19 AM | 01-06-2021?
Joe Pumo, RN, administers the shots to all critical staff at the Kaiser Permanente Lone Tree Medical Offices as they receive their first doses of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 on December 23, 2020 in Lone Tree, Colorado. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado teachers and essential workers, a group that encompasses an estimated 628,000 people, are slated to receive the coronavirus vaccine starting in early March, the head of the state’s health department said on Wednesday. 

Even though those groups were moved up in line to receive the inoculation last week to receive the vaccine, the timing will likely be too late to affect the rest of the 2020-2021 academic year since the vaccine must be given in two doses three weeks apart. It then takes another several weeks after the second dose is administered for someone to benefit from the full effects of the vaccine.

“We don’t expect the vaccine to have a major impact on back-to-school,” Gov. Jared Polis said during a news conference Wednesday. “Even though we moved up teachers from April and May to March, you get it in March you’re not immune for a month and a half.”

Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, urged patience.

“This timeline, of course, is dependent upon receiving a steady supply of vaccine doses from the federal government,” she said. “And while the limited federal supply means that not everyone will get it right away, with every dose administered, of course, we all feel a little safer. But a reminder that until vaccine is widely available and community immunity is achieved, we need everyone to keep following public health protocols.”

The state hopes to provide a first dose of coronavirus vaccine to Coloradans 70 and older by the end of February.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Phil DiStefano, CU Boulder’s chancellor, tests positive for coronavirus

8:42 AM | 01-06-2021?
Philip DiStefano

The top administrator for the University of Colorado Boulder has tested positive for coronavirus.

Chancellor Phil DiStefano received a positive result from a COVID-19 test on Tuesday, according to a university news release. His daughter also tested positive.

“Like many others, I have been following public health advice and have taken this pandemic very seriously,” DiStefano said in a written statement. “Our family’s situation is a reminder of how important it is to continue to follow public health guidance and to get tested.”

The news release noted that DiStefano is isolating with mild symptoms and will reduce his workload while he is ill.

–Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


Data error means Colorado didn’t report more than 2,000 coronavirus hospitalizations

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St. Anthony Summit Medical Center (Courtesy of Centura Health)

Colorado health officials announced Tuesday that they discovered more than 2,000 coronavirus hospitalizations that had not previously been reported in the state’s numbers.

The hospitalizations occurred at facilities in the Centura Health system and dated as far back as April, though most occurred in October, November and December. The largest number occurred in El Paso County, where Centura operates Penrose Hospital.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release that the unreported hospitalizations were found after updates to Centura’s data-reporting system. The updates “are a result of a quality control system established by local public health agencies and the state,” according to the news release.

The Tuesday influx of hospitalization numbers — which also included a 447-hospitalization reporting backlog from the holiday weekend — are enough to impact some counties’ metrics on the state COVID-19 restrictions dial. But CDPHE said the newly reported hospitalizations will be taken into account and not cause counties to change status on the dial.

There have been nearly 19,000 hospitalizations due to coronavirus since the pandemic began in Colorado. Active hospitalizations due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 peaked on Dec. 1 at 1,847, but the numbers have improved significantly over the last month. On Tuesday, there were 911 people in Colorado hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Across the state, 73% of intensive-care hospital beds are in use — near rates seen over the summer, when ICU use was typically around 70%. The southeast corner of the state on Tuesday reported that it had no ICU beds available, though those figures can change quickly in more rural parts of the state where the total number of ICU beds is low.

More than half of those currently hospitalized are over 60 years of age.

And the numbers continue to show the disproportionate toll COVID-19 has taken on communities of color. Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly a third of the people hospitalized in Colorado have been Hispanic. Less than a quarter of the state’s population is Hispanic. Black Coloradans have also been hospitalized at higher rates than their representation in the state’s population. White Coloradans — who make up about two-thirds of the state’s population — have accounted for just under half of the hospitalizations.

John Ingold, Staff writer


Coloradans 70 and older will be vaccinated before teachers, childcare workers and other frontline workers

4:35 PM | 01-05-2021?
Joe Pumo, RN, left, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Dr. Scott Andersen as the critical staff at the Kaiser Permanente Lone Tree Medical Offices receive their first doses of the Moderna vaccine. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Coloradans 70 and older will receive the coronavirus vaccine before teachers and other frontline workers as the state moves into the next inoculation phase.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says it anticipates that 70% of Coloradans 70 and older will be vaccinated by the end of February.

“We are working toward being able to announce by the end of this week ways for members of the general public who are 70 years old and up statewide to schedule appointments with hospitals and health systems,” CDPHE’s coronavirus incident commander, Scott Bookman, wrote in a letter to health care providers on Tuesday.

Gov. Jared Polis last week changed Colorado’s vaccination plan to move Coloradans 70 and older into Phase 1b. Also moved in the category were people working in education, food and agriculture, manufacturing and public transit. U.S. Postal Service workers are also now in Phase 1B, as are grocery store employees, public health workers, frontline essential human service workers, direct care providers for Coloradans experiencing homelessness and frontline journalists.

Coloradans who don’t fit into Phase 1b are expected to be vaccinated in the spring and summer of 2021.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


25th Colorado prison inmate dies after suspected coronavirus infection

9:26 AM | 01-05-2021?
The Colorado Territorial Prison in Cañon City. (Frank Carey, via Creative Commons)

A 25th Colorado prison inmate has died after apparently contracting COVID-19. 

The 55-year-old prisoner was being held at Bent County Correctional Facility. He died on Sunday at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs after initially being hospitalized on Dec. 29 with coronavirus-like symptoms. 

The Colorado Department of Corrections has declined to say whether the inmates who died with suspected COVID-19 infections ever tested positive for the disease, citing federal health privacy laws. But a state outbreak database indicates they all have tested positive for coronavirus and they are listed on a DOC dashboard as being COVID-19 deaths.

The state does not release the names of prisoners who have died after contracting the coronavirus. 

More than 7,500 Colorado prison inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic reached the state in March. As of Monday, about 700 of those inmates had active infections. 

More than 1,300 Colorado prison staff have also tested positive for COVID-19.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


El Paso County jail agrees to do more to stop coronavirus spread

4:37 PM | 01-04-2021?
The El Paso County jail. (Handout)

Inmates in a Colorado jail will get daily temperature checks and those who test positive for COVID-19 will be regularly monitored by medical staff under a temporary deal negotiated by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the sheriff and approved by a federal judge Monday.

The ACLU sued El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder last month after his office acknowledged that inmates were not routinely given masks to wear to prevent the spread of infection until a large COVID-19 outbreak in the jail. Jail officials said they could not distribute masks initially during the pandemic because the only ones available had metal staples which they said created unspecified safety concerns.

Under the preliminary injunction approved by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, inmates will be given two cloth masks to use and deputies who do no wear masks will face discipline. Deputies will check inmates’ temperatures twice a day and anyone with a temperature over 99.4 degrees will be referred to medical staff. Those who test positive will be checked by medical staff daily and given access to over-the-counter pain and cold medicine like Tylenol or Mucinex for free without having to submit a written request for it under the deal.

Some jail inmates have not been able to regularly get such medication because they were too sick to get to a computer kiosk during the limited hours when they could submit a request, said Mark Silverstein, the legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

Under the deal, inmates who test positive will be kept isolated from other inmates until they fully recover and jail officials will also try, as space allows, to provide single cells for inmates who are at high risk for developing severe complications if they contract COVID-19.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of six inmates, alleged Elder’s office had “disordered, mismanaged” policies that allowed sick and healthy inmates to intermingle with newly arrived inmates without quarantining.

The deal, which will be in effect for 90 days, only addresses what the sheriff’s office will do going forward, not whether or not it violated inmates’ rights previously. Jackson’s order notes that both sides are negotiating in hopes of reaching a permanent settlement to end the lawsuit.

— Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press


Colorado COVID Relief Fund taken offline after raising $23 million

7:46 AM | 01-04-2021?

A statewide relief fund for those in need because of the coronavirus pandemic has been taken offline after raising nearly $23 million since March.

The Colorado COVID Relief Fund website indicates contributions aren’t currently being accepted, and a statement on the site says “over 12,000 generous Coloradans have stepped up to support our neighbors at times of greatest need.” The website provides an email address for those who want to continue contributing to relief efforts.

Elizabeth Kosar, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jared Polis, wrote in an email to The Denver Post that a seventh round of grants was recently distributed.

“Conversations are underway with the philanthropic community and the Legislature about the best way to sustain support for Coloradans for the recovery phase of the pandemic in a more permanent infrastructure, so this will likely be our last round,” she said.

The fund was started in March with $2.8 million. At the time, the governor said the money would be spent on medical supplies, volunteer services, nursing home and homeless shelter staffing, cleaning supplies and helping struggling workers, families and small businesses to help “weather the storm” of coronavirus.

Colorado lawmakers approved 10 bills and more than $300 million in spending for COVID-19 relief during a special session in December.

— The Associated Press


Colorado health officials concerned about governor’s decision to ease coronavirus restrictions

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A day after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced restrictions for places like restaurants and gyms will be eased in much of the state starting next week, some local public health officials said they were concerned about the move.

The governor cited improving statewide COVID-19 metrics in lifting certain restrictions in 33 counties, including Denver and the entire Front Range, but his announcement on Wednesday came as not all of those counties meet the individual requirements to downgrade restrictions, the Denver Post reported.

“It appears that if there’s enough pressure from the business and economic forces in the state that we will change the dial to meet those demands and that’s kind of frustrating,” said Mark Johnson, executive director of Jefferson County Public Health.

The announcement came a day after Colorado said it had confirmed the United States’ first case of a new and apparently more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

“We don’t believe that it in any way reflects the spread of the disease or how dangerous the disease is or our concern about what is going to happen with Christmas, New Year’s or the new variant that is more infectious,” Johnson added. “We are sort of plowing into a wider, open area on the dial even though we have some deep concerns about it.”

Polis told the Denver Post that he posted on social media his announcement on moving all level red counties to the level orange designation because he wanted to give restaurants as much notice as possible to adjust to the changes before they go into effect Monday.

“We’re trying to tell everybody at the same time,” Polis said when asked why local public health officials weren’t informed sooner.

Polis’ directive comes even though many of the level red counties do not meet the threshold to move to a lower level. Under the current framework, a county is assigned a level based on new cases, the percentage of tests that are positive and how hospitalizations are trending.

Level red, Colorado’s second-highest level of restrictions, limits public gatherings and bans indoor dining. In counties rated as orange, restaurants can have in-person dining limited to 25% capacity or 50 people and gyms can increase their capacity to 25% or 25 people. Gatherings of up to 10 people from no more than two households are also allowed.

Only five of the 33 counties at level red on the dial system Thursday morning had case counts low enough to move to the less restrictive level orange, if the state followed its guidelines. Nine of the counties have case rates double the maximum for level orange, and one had six times the cases needed to move down a level.

Some local officials, such as in Denver, said they agree with the plan to move into level orange.

“Our hospitals are doing all right, but still in an area of concern, so it’s good we’re not going lower than orange,” said Cali Zimmerman, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. “We still need people wearing masks and physically distancing as much as possible.”

— The Associated Press


Looming questions about the discovery of a more contagious coronavirus variant in Colorado

7:46 AM | 12-31-2020?

With the news this week that a more contagious variant of COVID-19 has been identified in Colorado, health officials are scrambling to determine how prevalent it is in the state. 

The variant — known as B.1.1.7 — was initially discovered in the U.K., but has since spread to countries across the globe. It’s said to be as much as 70% more transmissible than the normal version of coronavirus.

Colorado was the first state to identify the variant in the U.S. It was found in a Colorado National Guard soldier in his 20s who was deployed to a nursing home in eastern Colorado.

Senior editor Dana Coffield and reporter Jesse Paul discussed what we know about the case and the big, looming questions that remain.

— Jesse Paul and Dana Coffield, Staff writers


Colorado governor moves to loosen level-red coronavirus restrictions as cases decline

7:42 AM | 12-31-2020?

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis late Wednesday announced that he will loosen coronavirus restrictions in areas across the state that had been forced to ban personal gatherings and shut down indoor dining in recent weeks.

The Democrat said he is asking the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to move counties that had been under level-red restrictions — including the entire Denver area and El Paso County — to level-orange restrictions starting on Monday.

Under level-orange restrictions, counties will be able to allow personal gatherings of up to 10 people from two different households and restaurants can offer indoor dining at up to 25% of their capacity or 50 people.

“In reviewing the data, Colorado has been in a sustained declined for 13 days, and only 73% of (intensive care unit) beds statewide are in use,” Polis said on Twitter in announcing the shift.

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado reshuffles its coronavirus vaccination plan, moves essential workers and people 70 and older up in line

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Colorado again made significant changes to its coronavirus vaccination plan on Wednesday, moving older Coloradans and essential workers, such as teachers, up in priority. But big questions about how it will all work remain unresolved.

Gov. Jared Polis said at a morning news conference that people 70 and older are now eligible for vaccination in counties that have completed inoculations of frontline health care workers. That means those older Coloradans are now placed alongside police, firefighters and paramedics in the state’s new Phase 1b of its vaccination priority scheme.

Also moved into Phase 1b: Teachers and others who work in education, food and agricultural workers, mail carriers, people working in manufacturing, transportation workers, grocery workers, journalists reporting in the field and people who provide services to those experiencing homelessness.

That is a significant expansion of the phase at a time when vaccine doses are still extremely limited and distribution remains a challenge. But Polis said the state decided to prioritize older Coloradans after learning from its data that those 70 and older account for 78% of the state’s coronavirus deaths. The changes also bring the state in line with new federal recommendations issued earlier this month.

“To end the acute phase of the crisis, the potential for overrunning our hospitals, bringing the death rate down, saving lives and ending the pandemic, we wanted to use those initial doses on age 70 and up,” Polis said.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Man who tested positive for more contagious coronavirus variant is Colorado National Guard soldier

12:56 PM | 12-30-2020?
Colorado National Guard members conduct COVID-19 testing at a drive up testing site in Greeley, Colorado, April 23, 2020. (Provided by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer)

Colorado health officials say the man who tested positive for a COVID-19 variant that has raised alarms because it is thought to be a more contagious version of the disease is a Colorado National Guard soldier.

The man appears to be the first confirmed U.S. case of the variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. He has not traveled internationally, however, suggesting the variant was already circulating in Colorado.

The guard member, who is in his 20s, was deployed at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Simla, where the Colorado National Guard is responding to an ongoing outbreak. Simla is about 50 miles northeast of Colorado Springs.

A second guard member who was deployed to the nursing home has tested positive for COVID-19 is being investigated as potentially having the variant, too, state health officials say. That person also has not traveled internationally recently.

Read the full story here.

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Judge dismisses ACLU lawsuit against Gov. Polis seeking to reduce prison population during COVID-19

10:48 AM | 12-30-2020?

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit demanding that Gov. Jared Polis take action to reduce Colorado’s prison population amid rising coronavirus cases. 

The ACLU of Colorado was incorrect in suing Polis over matters that are more relevant to the Department of Corrections, Denver District Court Judge Kandace Gerdes wrote in the ruling handed down on Dec. 24. The dismissal also stated that the court could not force the governor to take action granted to him by the authority of the executive branch, such as pardoning prisoners or commuting sentences, and could not rule on the governor’s lack of action.

As of Wednesday, 7,125 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started; there are about 15,000 people currently incarcerated. 24 have died during the pandemic — four in the past week alone

Read the whole story here.

–Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


Summit County offers coronavirus vaccine to residents over 75 starting Thursday

10:00 AM | 12-30-2020?
The Fiester Preserve in Frisco is pictured Feb. 6, 2020, with neighboring homes and the the White River National Forest in the background. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The coronavirus vaccine will be available as soon as Thursday to Summit County residents who are age 75 or older because the county health department received surplus doses.

“Summit County received several hundred more doses of Moderna vaccine than originally anticipated, and we are happy to be able to offer the opportunity for our residents in one of the highest risk categories to receive the vaccine to protect themselves this week,” Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said Wednesday in a written statement. “This is truly a holiday gift.”

Under state guidance, people age 75 and older aren’t supposed to receive the vaccine until phase 2 of Colorado’s vaccine rollout plan. It was anticipated that phase 2 wouldn’t begin until February or March, after health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, and first responders have been inoculated.

But changes to the vaccine rollout plan announced Wednesday by Gov. Jared Polis moved Coloradans age 70 and above up in line. The age group has accounted for the vast majority of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

Summit County says online registration opens Wednesday for vaccine appointments available Thursday through Saturday. Those interested can register here.

The vaccine is being offered free of charge.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado now has enough coronavirus vaccine for all frontline health care workers — and is poised to move into Phase 1b

8:24 AM | 12-30-2020?

Colorado hospitals and health clinics have now received enough coronavirus vaccine to provide a first dose to all frontline health care workers in the state, the Colorado National Guard general overseeing the state’s vaccine distribution system said Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman said the state expected to have more than 195,000 doses of vaccine “on the ground” by the end of the day Tuesday.

“According to our records … we’ve pretty much got the frontline health care workers done with their first dose,” Sherman said. “So we’ll be going into our next phase, Phase 1b.”

Health care workers who have direct contact with coronavirus patients are in Phase 1a of the state’s allocation plan, along with the staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 1b includes all other health care workers — and likely first responders, such as paramedics and police officers.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold and Jesse Paul, Staff writers


Colorado man tests positive for more contagious variant of coronavirus found in U.K

3:16 PM | 12-29-2020?
Nurse Joe Pumo, left, administers the coronavirus vaccine to physician assistant John Maxfield as the critical staff at the Kaiser Permanente Lone Tree Medical Offices receive their first doses of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 on December 23, 2020 in Lone Tree. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

AColorado man has tested positive for a variant of COVID-19 that has raised alarms in the United Kingdom because it is thought to be a more contagious strain of the disease.

The man’s infection appears to be the first known case of the variant in the United States.

The man, who is in his 20s and lives in Elbert County, has no travel history, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Tuesday. That indicates the man was infected by someone else in Colorado who has contracted the variant.

State health officials say they are doing a “thorough investigation” and that the man is recovering in isolation.

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Sarah Tuneberg, top Colorado coronavirus response official, resigns

1:23 PM | 12-29-2020?
Sarah Tuneberg, Gov. Jared Polis’ coronavirus innovation response team lead, talks about the “EN Express” service that will be available to Coloradans in the coming weeks. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Sarah Tuneberg, a top official helping lead Colorado’s coronavirus response, has resigned.

Tuneberg sent a letter on Dec. 23 to Jill Hunsakyer Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, saying she is stepping down from her post as COVID-19 innovation response team lead.

“It is time for me to move on from CDPHE,” she wrote. “My last day will be January 21, 2021.”

Tuneberg was tapped by Gov. Jared Polis to help with the state’s coronavirus response. Her background is in the private sector, specifically in the areas of public health, technology and entrepreneurship.

Tuneberg has helped procure coronavirus testing equipment and personal protective equipment for Colorado. She also ran the implementation of the Apple and Google Exposure Notifications Express service for smartphones, which helps streamline contact tracing. 

Tuneberg is currently working to implement a rapid-testing system for schools.

Colorado Public Radio was first to report Tuneberg’s resignation.

“The last several months have been some of the best of my professional career,” Tuneberg wrote in her resignation letter. “I am so grateful for the opportunity you both gave me to serve the State of Colorado in this incredibly difficult time.”

Ryan praised Tuneberg’s work in a written statement.

“For the past nine months, Sarah Tuneberg has led the scaling of the state’s testing and containment strategies and has been incredibly effective in this role,” Ryan said. “When she accepted the position, I knew it might not be for the long term, but I am grateful for her service to the state. She will always have a home at CDPHE.”

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado’s vaccine schedule won’t salvage a school year upended by coronavirus

4:52 PM | 12-28-2020?

The coronavirus vaccine that began arriving in Colorado this month will have zero direct effect on this year’s school year, according to current state plans for its rollout.

The first doses of the coveted vaccine are going to nurses and doctors who have been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Nursing home residents and the staff who care for them are also getting the highest priority. 

And then come firefighters and police officers, as well as people who work in home health, hospice care and dental offices.

The best-case scenario for vaccinating Colorado teachers against the virus that has disrupted education since last spring looks like this:

Teachers get their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in March. Their second round of the two-dose inoculation comes three to four weeks later, near the end of April. In early May, vaccinated teachers develop immunity to COVID-19. And then a couple of weeks later, school is out for the summer. 

Read the whole story here.

— Jennifer Brown and Erica Breunlin, Staff writers


Four more Colorado prisoners die after suspected coronavirus infections

4:51 PM | 12-28-2020?

Four Colorado prison inmates have died since Wednesday after apparently contracting COVID-19, bringing the total number of prisoners in the state whose deaths have been linked to the coronavirus to 24. 

The new fatalities come even as active coronavirus cases in Colorado Department of Corrections facilities are decreasing after a spike that matched the worst period of COVID-19 in the state. 

The new deaths linked to the disease include:

  • A 62-year-old inmate who was being housed at the Bent County Correctional Facility. The prisoner died on Wednesday at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs where they were taken on Dec. 6 with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • A 57-year-old inmate who was being housed at the Four Mile Correctional Facility. The prisoner died on Thursday at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility infirmary after being treated for their COVID-19 symptoms at two different hospitals starting on Dec. 7.
  • A 62-year-old inmate who was being housed at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility. The prisoner died on Thursday at Kindred Hospital Aurora where they were taken after being treated at Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo.
  • A 57-year-old inmate who was being housed at the Arrowhead Correctional Center. The prisoner died on Saturday at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs where they were taken on Dec. 12 with COVID-19 symptoms.

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


More than 42,000 health care workers have now been vaccinated against coronavirus in Colorado

1:46 PM | 12-23-2020?
A health care worker received Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado hospitals have vaccinated more than 42,000 workers with the new coronavirus vaccines, state officials announced Wednesday, and the large-scale vaccination campaign for people living or working in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities is expected to start on Monday.

The announcement came as Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman, the Colorado National Guard officer leading the state’s vaccination distribution task force, said the state expects to receive another 83,900 doses of vaccine next week. Those shipments will include 32,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 51,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine — with the majority of the latter going to the nursing home campaign.

Sherman said hospitals should soon have enough doses to have given first shots to all their frontline workers — the people directly coming into contact with COVID-19 patients.

“It’s really been spectacular the results we have gotten there,” Sherman said.

Colorado has so far received around 170,000 doses of vaccine, split between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Because Moderna’s vaccine is easier to move around, much of it is being deployed to rural hospitals that were left out of the first Pfizer distributions.

State officials also reiterated that local authorities will have flexibility in deciding how to allocate the vaccine. For instance, police officers are not included in the state’s priority plan until Phase 1b, along with other first responders. But some police officers have received a shot, and hospitals with enough vaccine left over after inoculating their frontline staff could move into lower-priority groups.

“A shot in the arm to anyone in those phases is certainly better than a wasted vaccine,” Sherman said.

A state official also appeared to backtrack on a previous statement from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that the state would not immediately be making any changes to the state’s priority plan based on new federal recommendations. Instead, Scott Bookman, CDPHE’s COVID-19 incident commander, said the agency would release an update in the coming days to “harmonize” with the federal recommendations and add “a little more granularity” to the highest-priority phases.

Bookman did not elaborate. The new federal recommendations suggest placing all people age 75 and older in the second-highest priority phase, alongside first responders. They also recommend moving frontline essential workers like grocery store employees and teachers to the same level.

John Ingold, Staff writer


Three more Colorado prisoners die from suspected coronavirus infections, bringing pandemic total to 20

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Barbed wire surrounds the Colorado Correctional Center at Camp George West outside Golden, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (Colorado Public Radio photo)

Three more Colorado prisoners have died after apparently contracting COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths among prison inmates linked to coronavirus to 20. 

Here are the new fatalities, per the Colorado Department of Corrections:

  • A 61-year-old inmate who was being held at Buena Vista Correctional Facility. He died Monday at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs. He was taken to the hospital on Dec. 13 with coronavirus-like symptoms. 
  •  A 74-year-old inmate who was being held at Sterling Correctional Facility died at Sterling Regional Medical Center on Tuesday after being taken there on Dec. 12 with coronavirus-like symptoms.
  • A 66-year-old inmate who was being held at Sterling Correctional Facility. He died at Sterling Regional Medical Center on Tuesday after being taken there on Dec. 16 with coronavirus-like symptoms.

The Colorado Department of Corrections has declined to say whether the 20 inmates who died with suspected COVID-19 infections ever tested positive for the disease, citing federal health privacy laws. But a state outbreak database indicates the prisoners did test positive for coronavirus.

More than 6,800 Colorado prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. About 1,000 of those had active infections as of Tuesday.

Sterling Correctional Facility has seen the worst outbreak of Colorado’s prisons. More than 1,300 inmates there have caught the virus, 10 of whom have died. 

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


First senior-care center residents in Colorado receive coronavirus vaccine

2:56 PM | 12-22-2020?
Army Veteran Phil Ross, 73, right, celebrates after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Ola Arije, left, at Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. Ross is the first senior-care center resident in Colorado to receive the vaccine. (Pool photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

The coronavirus vaccine was administered for the first time to people living at senior-care centers in Colorado on Tuesday, offering a path of relief to one of the populations hardest hit by COVID-19 in the state.

The vaccine was given to residents of the Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora. A pair of coronavirus outbreaks at the facility, one in April and another in August, sickened dozens of residents and killed as many as 26.

Melvin Menard, an 88-year-old Marine veteran, and Phil Ross, a 73-year-old Army veteran, were the first two residents of Fitzsimons to be inoculated. Both men contracted COVID-19 but recovered, according to Gov. Jared Polis’ office.

Registered nurse Antoinette Etchey, left, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Korean War veteran Melvin Menard, 88, at Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora, Colorado on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. (Pool hoto by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Polis was on hand for the occasion, as were the families of both men. Polis said in a written statement that Colorado is “climbing out of this public health crisis.”

Since coronavirus reached Colorado early this year, about 1,400 residents of nursing homes and senior-care centers have died from COVID-19, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of state health department data. More than 7,000 residents have been infected.

About 39,000 Coloradans have received the coronavirus vaccine so far.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado isn’t changing its vaccine priority plan for now, despite new federal recommendations

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Colorado health officials are not currently planning to change the state’s priority list for coronavirus vaccination, despite new recommendations from a federal committee.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — known more commonly as ACIP — over the weekend released new guidance on who it believes should be next in line for vaccination. Colorado is currently in Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout, when frontline health care workers who treat COVID-19 patients and residents of nursing homes and other senior-living facilities are eligible for vaccination. Colorado’s plan for Phase 1a squares with ACIP’s earlier recommendations.

But the new recommendations from ACIP lay out a priority list for who comes next that differs in significant ways from Colorado’s plan.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Colorado’s winter high school sports season will begin on Jan. 18

5:18 PM | 12-21-2020?

Colorado’s winter high school sports season will begin on Jan. 18, about two weeks later than originally planned but much earlier than officials had feared.

Practice for ice hockey, skiing, girls swimming, wrestling, basketball, and competitive spirit can begin on that date, with competition starting on Jan. 25.

The Colorado High School Activities Association originally planned for the winter sports season to begin on Jan. 4, but then reversed course and set a Feb. 1 start date because of spiking coronavirus cases in the state.

On Monday CHSAA announced it had secured a variance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to begin the winter sports season — also known as Season B — on Jan. 18.

“For months, our office has been laser-focused on students and the safe resumption of high school sports and activities in 2021,” CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said in a written statement. “The conversations with CDPHE and the Governor’s COVID Response Team to resume Season B sports have been intentional and assertive. Though it has taken many late nights and weekends, we are thrilled that our student-athletes, member schools and local school communities have a resolution. Educationally-based athletics are a vital extension of the classroom.”

There will be some restrictions in place to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. High school basketball teams, for instance, will only be allowed to have 24 total players at games.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Why Colorado firefighters believe they should get the coronavirus vaccine first

8:08 AM | 12-21-2020?

As Coloradans begin receiving the coronavirus vaccine, there are looming questions about the timing of when certain groups will get access to the inoculation. 

There are also frustrations, too, about how Gov. Jared Polis’ vaccine priority plan was laid out. 

Some firefighters, for example, feel they should have been prioritized alongside health care workers to receive the vaccine first. Instead, they and other first responders are second in line. 

We spoke with Don Lombardi, chief of the West Metro Fire Protection District, earlier this month about why he thinks firefighters should be moved up in line. 

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Who should go next for the coronavirus vaccine? A possible answer has been in Boulder all along.

8:06 AM | 12-21-2020?

For weeks now, health and community leaders in Colorado have engaged in a sometimes tense debate over how best to allocate scarce supplies of the coronavirus vaccine in order to save the most lives.

One argument goes that the state should prioritize those most at risk of death — people who are older and people who have high-risk medical conditions. Another argues that the vaccine should be used to target outbreak-prone groups, like those living in prisons or college dorms, in order to reduce the spread of the virus and provide community-wide protection.

Both strategies can find support from previous, successful vaccination campaigns for other infectious diseases. What’s been missing from the debate has been research to help figure out the best strategy for the current pandemic.

“I don’t know that we have good insight that says this is how you control a pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Dr. Eric France, the chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said, using the scientific name for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

But, it turns out, a possible answer has been sitting for months in a study published by University of Colorado Boulder researchers.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Colorado’s Ken Buck says he won’t be getting the coronavirus vaccine

3:16 PM | 12-18-2020?

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Weld County Republican, said on Friday that he won’t be getting the coronavirus vaccine.

“It is my choice,” Buck said during an appearance on Fox Business. “I’m an American. I have the freedom to decide if I’m going to take a vaccine or not. In this case, I’m not going to take the vaccine.”

Buck said he’s more concerned about the safety of the vaccine than “the side effects of the disease.”

“I’m a healthy person,” said Buck, who is also chair of the Colorado GOP.

In a later tweet, Buck said his “point was at-risk individuals should be prioritized before members of Congress.” He also said that he encourages frontline workers, health care professionals and at-risk people to get the vaccine.

A spokeswoman for Buck said the congressman was “referring to some of the more asymptomatic cases generally” when he compared the vaccine to the illness. She did not elaborate.

Health care experts say Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is safe, though some people may experience side effects consistent with a mild cold after receiving it. The inoculation was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. 

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, received the vaccine on Friday in a publicized event aimed at reassuring the public that it’s safe.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


“We are seeing improvement,” Colorado’s top epidemiologist says of COVID-19 situation

1:07 PM | 12-18-2020?
Dr. Sarah Rowan and other medical staff from Denver Health administers free drive-up COVID-19 testing in the parking lot of Abraham Lincoln High School on November 7, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

While Colorado’s coronavirus case rates remain high, the state’s top epidemiologist said Friday that there are starting to be some “clear improvements.”

Dr. Rachel Herlihy said there has been a sustained, two-week downward trend in cases. Hospitalizations are going down as well.

“Coloradans’ actions and Colorado’s policies have made a difference,” she said during a news conference with Gov. Jared Polis.

Polis said about 1 out of every 59 Coloradans are currently contagious with coronavirus. That’s down from roughly 1 in 40 just a few weeks ago.

Herlihy said that Colorado’s improvements are in contrast to a worsening national COVID-19 situation.

Coronavirus deaths in Colorado are one exception, Herlihy said. Half of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in the past two months, and those numbers continue to rise. There is hope, however, that deaths begin to fall as cases and hospitalizations decrease.

“If we can avoid a Christmas and New Year’s spike, we can get our numbers back down to (acceptable) levels in time for school reopening in mid-January,” Herlihy said, “and we can get back down to the numbers where we were this summer by mid-March or so.”

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Broncos cancel practice after staff member tests positive for coronavirus

11:50 AM | 12-18-2020?
Empower Field at Mile High Stadium. (Unsplash photo)

ENGLEWOOD — The Denver Broncos canceled their walkthrough Friday after a staff member at team headquarters tested positive for the coronavirus.

Patrick Smyth, the Broncos’ chief communications officer, tweeted “the team is continuing its normal preparations virtually for Saturday’s game against Buffalo.”

The team didn’t identify the person who tested positive.

The Broncos have canceled four practices or walkthroughs this year because of the coronavirus. They’ve had eight players go on the COVID-19 reserve list for infections and four more for close contact, including kicker Brandon McManus t his week.

They were forced to play a game against New Orleans last month with a practice squad receiver at quarterback after all four of their QBs were disqualified when Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were deemed high-risk close contacts of QB Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for the virus on Thanksgiving.

The three other QBs had failed to wear masks around Driskel earlier that week when they voluntarily went in on their off day for film study.

After that incident, the Broncos signed kicker/punter Taylor Russolino, a 31-year-old rookie, to their practice squad and kept him isolated as their “COVID kicker” should the coronavirus sideline either McManus or punter Sam Martin.

That contingency plan came into play this week when McManus went on the COVID-19 reserve list as a close contact. Because the game against Buffalo is on Saturday, he won’t be back in time to rejoin his teammates for kickoff. So, Russolino will fill in.

In addition to the players who have tested positive for the coronavirus since training camp started, veterans Von Miller and Kareem Jackson were infected in the offseason. The Broncos also have had three assistant coaches and two executives, including GM John Elway, test positive this season.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell missed six weeks and spent five days in the hospital during his illness. He is one of two people in the NFL known to have been hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19.

The Broncos (5-8) are scheduled to host the Bills (10-3) at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The Bills are seeking their first AFC East title in 25 years and the Broncos are hoping to avoid a fourth consecutive losing season, something that hasn’t happened since the late 1960s and early ’70s.

— Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press


Denver will likely remain under level-red restrictions for at least three to four more weeks, leaders say

12:36 PM | 12-17-2020?
Signs of COVID-19 are visible around the metro area, including this car owner hanging a number of disposable masks from the rearview mirror on December 16, 2020, in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Denver will be under level-red restrictions for at least three to four more weeks, and that’s only if cases continue to decline as they have since the city was forced to shut down indoor dining and decrease business capacity in November, Denver leaders said Thursday.

In a virtual news conference, Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, noted that infection rates have dropped significantly in the past few weeks, thanks largely to the level-red restrictions imposed on Nov. 20. McDonald estimated that the city could hit the benchmark rate of 350 cases per 100,000 people needed to loosen restrictions in three to four weeks.

But Denver’s case rate — 703 per 100,000 people as of Wednesday — is still roughly twice what it needs to be for the city to loosen restrictions. And with colder weather moving gatherings inside, as well as the upcoming holidays, McDonald cautioned people to not let down their guard.

“This virus could turn in the other direction very easily if we ease up,” McDonald said. 

McDonald also expressed concern with maintaining enough hospital staff, though hospitalizations are declining and the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine are being administered. 

Denver Health medical center received its first set of Pfizer vaccines on Wednesday and began inoculating staffers Thursday, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Connie Price. She called the vaccine “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Staff will not be required to get vaccinated, though Price said that a survey of the hospital’s employees found 70% would take it.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also said Thursday that the city will apply for the state’s 5-star variance program, which allows businesses to open with fewer restrictions as long as they are following strict coronavirus guidelines. Hancock said that a working group is starting that process, but so far there’s no specific timeline for when the city’s application to the state will be filed. 

“We want to do this right,” Hancock said.

The mayor estimated about 7,000 businesses could qualify for the program.

Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


Colorado could have 5,000 to 6,000 coronavirus-linked deaths by the end of 2020, chief medical officer says

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Despite a leveling off of coronavirus cases in recent days, Colorado could still reach 5,000 to 6,000 coronavirus-linked deaths by the end of the year, the state’s chief medical officer said Wednesday. 

“We do expect (the number of deaths) to continue to rise,” said Dr. Eric France with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

Through Wednesday, more than 4,000 people had died after contracting COVID-19. About 3,200 of those deaths were directly attributed to the disease. 

Deaths have been on the rise in Colorado since the beginning of October. They reached a peak on Dec. 6, when the daily average over a seven-day period hit 57.

Colorado’s cumulative coronavirus death count. (CDPHE screenshot)

The death toll in Pueblo County has been so severe that the county coroner announced this week that he procured a refrigerated trailer to temporarily store bodies in. 

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado bishops warn Catholics about morality of COVID-19 vaccines, citing fetal cells

2:16 PM | 12-16-2020?
Josiah Jansen, who works in the pharmacy at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, holds up a vial of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Catholic bishops from Colorado’s three dioceses warned parishioners about moral questions behind the new COVID-19 vaccines in an open letter this week, noting that vaccine producers may have used aborted fetal cells in creating their vaccines or during lab tests. 

The letter from the bishops in Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo comes as the first doses of the vaccine arrived in Colorado for health care workers. 

Vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna, the first two vaccines coming on the market for the public, are “morally acceptable” because neither company used “fetal cell lines from an aborted baby” during production, the letter states. But the companies both relied on those cells during lab tests, the bishops said.

Read the whole story here.

— Jennifer Brown and John Ingold, Staff writers


Colorado lawmaker who also works as ER nurse gets coronavirus vaccine, hopes to show others it’s safe

2:15 PM | 12-16-2020?
State Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Northglenn Democrat, receives a dose of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Mullica is also an emergency room nurse who has cared for COVID-19 patients for months. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Kyle Mullica, a state representative who also works as an emergency room nurse, received his first dose of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday, saying he hopes to show others that the inoculation is safe and leaving open the possibility of legislative action to ensure it reaches enough people to end the pandemic.  

“I trust the science behind this,” the Northglenn Democrat said minutes after receiving the vaccine at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver. “I hope that people see that their health care workers are doing this. This is the way that we’re going to get through this — by trusting that science, by getting the vaccine, by getting to a level where we’re all safe.”

Mullica didn’t receive special access to the vaccine because he’s a lawmaker. He has been caring for COVID-19 patients at Presbyterian St. Luke’s since the pandemic reached Colorado in March, which puts him in the first group of health care workers to receive the vaccine this week. He also traveled to Chicago to treat jail inmates there for the disease. 

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Two more Colorado prisoners die after suspected coronavirus infections, bringing pandemic total to 17

4:01 PM | 12-15-2020?
Located in Cañon City, the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, shown here in a Dec. 9, 2020, photo, is the state’s oldest prison. Built in 1871, it preceded the state’s admission to the Union by five years. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Two more Colorado prison inmates have died after apparently contracting COVID-19, bringing the total number who have died since the pandemic began to 17. 

The two inmates who recently died are:

  • A 46-year-old man who was being held at Sterling Correctional Facility. He died Saturday at Medical Center of the Rockies after being hospitalized with coronavirus-like symptoms on Nov. 30. 
  • A 68-year-old man who was being held at Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City. He died Tuesday at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City where he was taken on Dec. 8 with coronavirus-like symptoms. 

The Colorado Department of Corrections, which released the information on the two new deaths, has declined to provide the names of inmates who have died from suspected COVID-19 infections. It has also declined to say if those inmates tested positive for the disease, citing federal health privacy laws, which is why the infections are only suspected or apparent.

As of Tuesday, more than 6,200 Colorado prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19. Nearly 2,000 of those were actively infected with the disease. 

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado counties invited to apply for “5-Star” program, decreased coronavirus restrictions

12:55 PM | 12-15-2020?

Many restaurants and other retail product or service industries have begged state and county officials for relief from tight red-zone restrictions that limit sales. The state responded in November that it would review Mesa County’s success in avoiding new infections and consider giving other counties the same “5-Star” option.

Mesa County’s pioneering “5-Star” program to give trusted businesses official relief from pandemic restrictions appears to have passed review, and state health officials are now extending invites to other counties to apply for similar variances.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment now invites counties to adopt a checklist of tasks and then apply to the state for the relief. In one key component, counties are told they cannot rely on businesses self-certifying or vouching for their own anti-virus measures. The county applications must include a third-party system for inspecting and evaluating each business’s efforts.

Each county must appoint and launch an administrative committee to run its 5-Star program. As with past variance requests, counties must gather supporting letters from local elected officials, law enforcement and local medical providers endorsing their request.

Mesa County has said its business endorsement program, which it advertises in local media to help retailers regain customers, guarantees added protections for both employees and customers. Restaurants and other businesses in Larimer County and elsewhere objected when the state pushed them into tighter red zone restrictions in November, saying it would kill their revenue and did not reward owners who were going above and beyond to fight the virus.

Colorado’s checklist and more information about the 5-Star program can be found here.


Michael Booth, Colorado Sun contributor


One dead, 30 infected with COVID-19 at Durango corrections facility

10:27 AM | 12-15-2020?

DURANGO — A COVID-19 outbreak at a community corrections facility has infected 25 residents and six employees, and has killed one resident, according to San Juan Basin Public Health. 

Lab tests and an investigation by epidemiologists confirmed the outbreak at Hilltop House, which is a community corrections and rehabilitation center.

“Hilltop House management took immediate action to limit further spread of disease,” according to a news release from local public health officials. The facility notified the Colorado Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state’s community corrections system.

Hilltop has received additional nursing staff through a new state program that is hiring medical workers for prisons and long-term care facilities that are experiencing coronavirus outbreaks. 

The outbreak investigation is ongoing, with additional confirmed cases possible, the local health department said.

Numerous other correctional facilities, including prisons, across the state are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks this fall. 

Jen Brown, Staff writer


U.S. Supreme Court orders review of Colorado’s coronavirus rules for churches

10:18 AM | 12-15-2020?

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a lower federal court to reexamine Colorado restrictions on indoor religious services to combat the coronavirus in light of the justices’ recent ruling in favor of churches and synagogues in New York.

Three dissenting justices noted that the state already had lifted the challenged restrictions.

The high court’s unsigned decision did not rule that limits imposed by Gov. Jared Polis were improper. But it did throw out a federal district court ruling that rejected a challenge to the limits from the High Plains Harvest Church in the rural town of Ault in northern Colorado.

Last month, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in holding that New York could not enforce certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues. The high court subsequently ordered a new look at California worship service restrictions that had been challenged.

Colorado told the justices last week that it had amended a public health order “to remove capacity limits from all houses of worship at all times in response to this Court’s recent decisions.”

That should have settled the matter because “there is no reason to think Colorado will reverse course—and so no reason to think Harvest Church will again face capacity limits,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a brief dissent that was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The Associated Press


El Paso County sheriff sued for not providing jail inmates with masks

1:29 PM | 12-14-2020?

Six people held at the El Paso County jail have filed a lawsuit against the county sheriff for violating their constitutional rights by failing to take measures to protect them from the coronavirus.

The inmates allege that not only did El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder and his staff fail to provide them with masks but they also prohibited inmates from making and wearing their own. According to the lawsuit, inmates were moved around without regard to containing the spread of the virus. Healthy inmates were placed in cells with people who were symptomatic. New admissions to the jail were not quarantined before being placed in the general population.

“While COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in Defendant’s jail and ravishing the population gripped by fear and suffering,” the lawsuit’s opening lines state, “jail staff have told people incarcerated there begging for help: ‘We’re just going to let the virus run its course.’”

As of last week, the jail had seen 1,031 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates and another 115 cases among staff. It is the second-largest outbreak at a correctional facility in Colorado, behind the state prison in Sterling.

Of the six inmates who are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, four are being held pre-trial, meaning they have not been convicted of a crime. The inmates are alleging violations of the Eighth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as violations of the Colorado constitution. They are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, something that would have to be certified by the judge.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the inmates by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and three private attorneys.

“Hundreds of people contracted COVID-19 in the jail and suffered unnecessarily because of the sheriff’s deliberately indifferent failure to protect them from an obvious risk of infection and harm to their health,” Dan Williams, one of the lawyers on the suit, said in a statement. “Meanwhile, those who have yet to contract the virus live in constant fear, as they look around at sick bunkmates, coughing jail staff and a general disregard for safety. In the time it took to prepare to file this case, people who tested negative multiple times have now tested positive and begun to get sick. Urgent is an understatement.”

John Ingold, Staff writer


“Absolutely historic”: First doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine arrive in Colorado

10:01 AM | 12-14-2020?
The first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine arrive in Colorado on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (Handout)

Colorado received its first shipment of the coronavirus vaccine Monday morning, launching a months-long inoculation process that health officials hope will start to have meaningful effects on limiting transmission of the disease in the state by late spring.

A FedEx van delivered 975 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s lab in east Denver. The vehicle arrived at a loading dock at 8:05 a.m. Gov. Jared Polis was on hand for the delivery, personally signing for the suitcase-sized package. 

“It’s the Pfizer vaccine arriving here in Colorado to end the pandemic!” Polis called out as Preston Riley, a FedEx delivery man wearing a purple and orange uniform, rang the freight-entrance doorbell and wheeled up the cardboard box. 

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun and Seth Klamann, The Denver Gazette


States, including Colorado, get tracing apps to talk to each other as virus rises

8:22 AM | 12-14-2020?

RALEIGH, N.C. — As coronavirus exposure notification technology slowly rolls out across the country, every resident in 17 states and the District of Columbia will now be able to send and receive alerts beyond their home state if they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus or come into contact with someone who has.

On Friday, Virginia joined Washington, D.C., and 16 other states that have been using the Association of Public Health Laboratories’ National Key Server, which allows phones to “talk to each other” across state borders. This means users in these 18 areas won’t have to download a separate app in places they are visiting.

“This is especially important considering added travel during the holiday season,” said a statement from Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s state health commissioner. 

Apple and Google co-created the technology that uses Bluetooth wireless signals to anonymously detect when two phones have been in close proximity. A user who tests positive for the virus can have their phone trigger a notification to other people they’ve spent time near.

The states beyond Virginia are Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, ​Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wyoming.

In August, Virginia became the first state in the country to utilize the technology. It has since recorded nearly 900,000 downloads. It is now the final state to join the national server.

Hawaii and Oregon are piloting an app with a limited population on the National Key Server. 

In some states, such as Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and Washington, Apple users receive a pop-up message from Apple to adjust their iPhone settings to activate the notification feature. Adoption is much higher in these places compared with those that require residents to download distinct app, including North Carolina, North Dakota and Virginia.

Data obtained by The Associated Press from 16 state public health departments shows 8.1 million Americans adopted the contact tracing tool in these areas through late November. That pales in comparison to the roughly 110 million residents in those regions. California did not have an app available in November.

— Bryan Anderson, AP/ Report for America


Pitkin County’s virus affidavit requirement causes some cancellations

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A skier makes his way through some March 2019 powder on Aspen Mountain. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

ASPEN — A measure from a Colorado county scheduled to begin on Dec. 14 that requires all visitors to sign a coronavirus affidavit has resulted in some visitors canceling their trips, local officials said.

Debbie Braun, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, told the Pitkin County Board of Health on Thursday that confusion over the program is keeping many visitors out.

Pitkin County will require visitors to sign an online affidavit that states they had a negative coronavirus test at most three days prior to arrival or, once arriving, that they will quarantine until they test negative or until 14 days have elapsed.

The county had implemented the measure earlier this month. Pitkin County is home to Aspen’s four ski areas — Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass — and will be the only county in the state with similar requirements.

Visitors will also be asked to certify that they and their potential dependents have been symptom free for 10 days prior to arrival.

“We should become more attractive to visit because we’re guaranteeing a safe visit,” said Aspen City Councilwoman and health board member Ann Mullins. “We need to change the messaging going out there.”

The W Hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain has already reported a loss of about $70,000 from canceled bookings since about Tuesday, the hotel’s general manager Greg Durrer told County Commissioner Greg Poschman, who sits on the health board.

“The phones are ringing with people not understanding the affidavit and not knowing if we are going to stay in Orange-plus (level restrictions) or go to Red,” Braun said. “Many of the lodges right now are seeing more cancellations than they are seeing bookings as we’re moving forward.”

Lodges in the area are allowed to stay open and are not bound to the state’s coronavirus color-code capacity restrictions, the Aspen Times reported.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Gov. Jared Polis, First Gentleman Marlon Reis provide video update on their COVID-19 infections

5:18 PM | 12-11-2020?

Marlon Reis, the spouse of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, said Friday that he is still being monitored by medical personnel despite being released from University of Colorado Hospital on Tuesday where he was being treated for his COVID-19 infection.

Reis, in a video update released by Polis’ office, said he will continue to wear a remote vital-signs measuring device on one of his wrists so that his doctor can track any abnormalities.

“My recovery is not yet over,” Reis said.

Reis and Polis tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 28. Reis was hospitalized on Dec. 6 when he started experiencing breathing issues. At first, he just had headaches, but then his symptoms quickly worsened to include all-over aches, abdominal pain, extreme fatigue and respiratory problems.

“The breathing problems are what convinced my doctor that it was time for to check into the hospital,” Reis said.

Marlon Reis attends a news conference on voting in October 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Reis was released after receiving dexamethasone, a steroid, and remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug.

Polis had only minor symptoms, which have since resolved. He only took baby aspirin on the advice of his doctor.

“For me, the hardest thing was that Marlon was away from our family without any idea of when or even if he’d be able to come home,” Polis said. “It was especially hard explaining to our 9-year-old and our 6-year-old why he had to go away to get better.”

It’s not clear where Polis and Reis contracted COVID-19, though Polis was exposed to a state employee who tested positive for the disease on Nov. 25.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Coronavirus vaccine won’t have “clear impact” in Colorado until late spring 2021, state epidemiologist says

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Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s state epidemiologist, speaks to reporters at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver on Monday, April 20, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Coronavirus vaccines won’t have a “clear impact” in Colorado until late spring 2021, the state’s top epidemiologist said on Friday.

“While the vaccine is coming, it’s still going to be several months before we have a clear impact of the vaccine contributing to herd immunity, decreasing disease transmission in the state,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy said during a town hall teleconference with Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. “It’s probably not until the late spring that we’re really going to see the clear impact of the vaccine for the amount of disease transmission we are seeing right now.”

Herlihy said the time between now and then will be tough for Colorado, which is working its way through a deadly surge of COVID-19. 

“We know that the next couple of months are going to be incredibly difficult,” she said.

Colorado is slated to start receiving doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine within the next week. About a week after that, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is expected to start arriving in Colorado. Both vaccines require two doses within a three-week period.

The state released its vaccine distribution plan this week, which calls for the general public to start getting inoculated sometime in the summer of 2021. Health care workers and nursing home residents and staff are first in line to receive the vaccine.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado releases list of which hospitals, health agencies will get coronavirus vaccine first and how much of it

9:50 AM | 12-11-2020?
Vail Health Hospital nurse Diane Schmidt holds up a mock COVID-19 vaccine vial at the hospital on December 8, 2020. (Pool photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Colorado health officials on Friday released a list of which hospitals, health care facilities and local health departments will receive the state’s first allotments of coronavirus vaccine.

Nearly 47,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine could start arriving in Colorado within a week. More than 95,000 doses of a vaccine produced by Moderna could start arriving about a week after that.

Both vaccines require two doses, three weeks apart, to be most effective.

“The state determined  the number of doses going to each location by surveying facilities’ needs,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release. “Many of the doses allocated to local public health agencies will be administered to health care workers at local hospitals that do not have the capability to store vaccine.”

Here’s how doses of the vaccine will be distributed to hospitals, health care facilities and local health departments:

Facility namePfizer initial allocationModerna initial allocation
Alamosa County Public Health Department600
Animas Surgical Hospital*115
Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center400
Aspen Valley Hospital100500
Baca County Public Health100
Banner Fort Collins Medical Center200
Bent County Public Health100
Boulder County Public Health – Boulder Site600
Boulder County Public Health – Longmont Site100
Castle Rock Adventist Hospital415200
Chaffee County Public Health100
Cheyenne County Public Health100
Children’s Hospital Colorado*48756300
Clear Creek County Public Health100
Clinica Family Health – Boulder200
Clinica Family Health – Pecos200
Clinica Family Health – Thornton100
Clinica Family Health – Westminster Federal Heights100
Colorado Canyons Hospital and Medical Center*300
Colorado Department of Corrections Pharmacy500
Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo2300
Colorado Plains Medical Center150200
Colorado West Health Care – Community Hospital1200
Community Health Services100
Conejos County Public Health100
Costilla County Public Health100
Custer County Public Health Agency100
Delta County Memorial Hospital330300
Delta County Public Health Department100
Denver Health Medical Center29255600
Denver Public Health Immunization Clinic400
Dolores County Public Health100
Eagle County Public Health Avon1100
East Morgan County Hospital200
El Paso County Public Health300
Foothills Hospital (Boulder Community)9752000
Fremont County Department of Public Health and Environment100
Gilpin County Public Health100
Good Samaritan Medical Center975900
Grand County Public Health100
Grand River Medical Center600
Gunnison County Public Health*300600
Haxtun Hospital District50100
Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center345300
Hinsdale County Public Health100
Jefferson County Public Health200
Kaiser Permanente Arapahoe Medical Office200
Kaiser Permanente Aurora Centrepoint Medical Office300
Kaiser Permanente Baseline Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente Briargate Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente Brighton Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente East Denver Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente Hidden Lake Medical Office200
Kaiser Permanente Highlands Ranch Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente Lakewood Medical Office300
Kaiser Permanente Lone Tree Medical Office500
Kaiser Permanente Longmont Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente Rock Creek Medical Office700
Kaiser Permanente Skyline Medical Office200
Kaiser Permanente Smoky Hill Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente Southwest Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente Westminster Medical Office300
Kaiser Permanente Wheat Ridge Medical Office100
Kaiser Permanente Franklin Street600
Kiowa County Public Health100
Kit Carson County Dept. of Public Health and Environment100 
Lake County Public Health Agency100
Larimer County Department of Health and Environment300
Las Animas – Huerfano Health – Walsenburg100
Las Animas – Huerfano Health Dept. – Trinidad100
Lincoln County Public Health200
Littleton Adventist Hospital600
Longmont United Hospital700
Longs Peak Hospital700
Lutheran Medical Center9751500
Matthews – VU200
McKee Medical Center230200
Medical Center of Aurora3752100
Memorial Hospital400
Mercy Regional Medical Center360800
Mesa County Public Health200
Middle Park Medical Center300
Mineral (Silver Thread) County Public Health Agency100
Moffat County Public Health100
Montezuma County Public Health Dept.100
Montrose County Public Health100
Montrose Memorial Hospital800
Mt. San Rafael Hospital300
National Jewish Health975
North Colorado Medical Center580900
North Suburban Medical Center1300
Northeast Colorado Health Dept200
Northeast Colorado Health Dept- Akron100
Northeast Colorado Health Dept- Fort Morgan100
Northeast Colorado Health Dept- Holyoke100
Northeast Colorado Health Dept- Julesburg100
Northeast Colorado Health Dept- Yuma100
Northwest Colorado Health – Craig100
Optum Medical Center Point Specialty Clinic700
Otero County Health Department – La Junta100
Ouray County Public Health Agency100
Pagosa Springs Medical Center200
Park County Public Health100
Parker Adventist Hospital1200
Parkview Medical Center, Inc.10002500
Penrose-St. Francis Health Services19501100
Platte Valley Medical Center2600
Porter Adventist Hospital1400
Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center9752900
Prowers County Public Health100
Prowers Medical Center175100
Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment*10300
Rio Blanco County Department of Public Health200
Rio Grande County Public Health100
Rio Grande Hospital50100
Rose Medical Center3001500
Routt County Public Health Department100
Saguache County Public Health – Center100
Saguache County Public Health – Saguache100
Saint Joseph Hospital16503000
Salud Family Health Center Brighton100
Salud Family Health Center Commerce City100
Salud Family Health Center Longmont100
Salud Family Health Centers – Fort Collins100
San Juan Basin Public Health100
San Juan County Public Health100
San Miguel County Dept. of Health and Env100
Sedgwick County Memorial Hospital115100
Sky Ridge Medical Center9752600
Southwest Memorial Hospital300200
St. Anthony Hospital9751500
St. Anthony North Health Campus975400
St. Anthony Summit Medical Center180800
St. Mary’s Medical Center6752300
St. Thomas More Hospital300100
Sterling Regional Medical Center300
Summit County Public Health100
Swedish Medical Center19502400
Teller County Public Health and Environment100
Telluride Regional Medical Center100
Tri-County Health Department – Greenwood Village*500
UCHealth Broomfield Hospital200
UCHealth Grandview Hospital100
UCHealth Greeley Hospital*325500
UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital700
UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies5001100
UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital39004100
UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center*580200
University of Colorado Health Memorial Hospital Central39004100
University of Colorado Health Memorial Hospital North800
University of Colorado Hospital Authority78006000
Vail Health Hospital*875800
Valley View Hospital Association2151000
Valley Wide Alamosa Pharmacy500
Weld County Department of Public Health200
Wray Community District Hospital100

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado has not yet seen a coronavirus case spike tied to Thanksgiving

12:37 PM | 12-10-2020?

New cases of coronavirus infection in Colorado are holding in a “high plateau” and have not yet shown a spike related to Thanksgiving gatherings.

The state has been reporting between 4,000 and 4,500 new cases per day for the last couple of weeks. A Thanksgiving-related spike was expected to begin showing up in the data starting on Monday. But Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, said cases have so far not increased as feared.

“We’re not seeing an increasing trend associated with Thanksgiving,” Herlihy said Thursday during a meeting of the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee, a panel of medical experts that offers advice to the state on how to respond to the pandemic.

A screenshot from a Dec. 10, 2020, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment presentation shows the expected timeline when coronavirus infections acquired at Thanksgiving gatherings would begin showing up in the state’s data. The shaded area shows the number of new cases reported. (Screenshot)

“It’s either too soon, or all of those things we did in the state really made a difference,” Herlihy said, referencing the tightened restrictions in many counties prior to Thanksgiving and the large public-messaging campaigns that urged Coloradans to celebrate the holiday just within their own households.

“I think it’s still too soon to know for sure, but so far the numbers are looking promising,” Herlihy added.

Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have declined in Colorado, and Herlihy said modeling estimates of “transmission control” — an overarching parameter that measures how well all of the state’s control measures are working — have increased. At the current level of control, Colorado is not expected to exceed its overall hospital capacity or its intensive-care bed capacity. That would hold true even if the state sees a temporary 20% slip in transmission control over the December holidays.

A screenshot from a Dec. 10, 2020, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment presentation shows the number of patients hospitalized in Colorado with COVID-19 over time. (Screenshot)

If transmission control drops to where it was in early November, though, the state would exceed both hospital and ICU capacity around the end of the year.

The state has not seen a decline in deaths, which are at the highest level yet in the pandemic, Herlihy said. Nov. 20, for instance, saw 56 deaths among people with COVID-19, by far the largest number reported for a single day in Colorado.

Overall, Herlihy said the state is in a “high plateau” for cases — which are still being reported at much greater numbers than at any time during the pandemic.

“We can expect to see these smaller peaks and valleys when we’re in this plateau state,” Herlihy said.

The state’s model continues to estimate that about 1 in 40 Coloradans is currently contagious with coronavirus. The model estimates that 16.5% of Coloradans have been infected by the virus during the pandemic.

“We really do need to keep the strategies that we have working in the state,” Herlihy said.

John Ingold, Staff writer


University of Colorado Boulder will begin spring semester with all remote classes for at least a month

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Folsom Field at CU Boulder. (Unsplash)

The University of Colorado Boulder will begin its spring 2021 semester with classes entirely online through at least Feb. 15, the school announced Thursday.

“In consultation with state and local health officials, we need to delay our in-person opportunities until cases decrease and we can provide a safer and more positive on-campus experience,” Chancellor Phil DiStefano wrote in a letter to the campus community. “We will do our best to avoid the back-and-forth shifts that created uncertainty for our campus community in the fall.”

Residence hall move-in will be delayed, with room and board costs reduced accordingly, according to CU. 

The university said it would confirm the start date for in-person classes no later than Jan. 14, but did not say when students living on campus could return to dorms.  

The school is asking all students, including those living off-campus, to wait to return to Boulder until in-person classes resume in order to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus while traveling.

Faculty and staff were encouraged to continue working remotely, though research that must occur in person will still be allowed to continue under current safety protocols.

The campus also announced it will hold its 2021 commencement ceremony virtually again. This year’s spring commencement ceremony was held virtually when classes went online and the campus closed down.

“We didn’t arrive at the commencement decision lightly, but firmly believe it’s the right call,” DiStefano wrote in his letter.

The school is holding a virtual Q&A session about spring semester plans at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


Another Colorado prison inmate dies from suspected coronavirus, bringing total to 15

5:58 PM | 12-09-2020?

Another Colorado prison inmate has died from a suspected coronavirus infection, bringing the total number who have succumbed to the virus since the pandemic began to 15.

The 83-year-old, who was being held at the Crowley County Correctional Facility, died on Tuesday at Parkview Hospital in Pueblo. He was taken to the hospital on Dec. 3 with coronavirus symptoms. 

The inmate is the first from Crowley County Correctional Facility to die from suspected COVID-19. The prison is privately owned and operated by CoreCivic.

As of Wednesday, nearly 6,000 Colorado prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19. More than 1,800 of those have active infections.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


General public in Colorado likely won’t have access to coronavirus vaccine until summer 2021

1:53 PM | 12-09-2020?
Vail Health Hospital nurse Diane Schmidt, left, gives a mock COVID-19 vaccine to Caitlyn Ngam, right, an infection preventionist at the hospital, on Dec. 8, 2020 in Vail. (Pool photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

The general public in Colorado likely won’t have access to a coronavirus vaccine until the summer of 2021, state officials said Wednesday, though health care workers and nursing home residents could start being inoculated within a week.

A distribution plan unveiled Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment prioritizes health care workers, namely those who interact with COVID-19 patients, and nursing home residents and staff for the first doses of vaccine in what’s being referred to as “Phase 1A.”

In “Phase 1B,” which is expected to continue through the winter, first responders — like firefighters and police officers — and people who work in home health, hospice care and dental settings will be prioritized for vaccine access.

A vaccine developed by Pfizer, which requires two doses, could be approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration in the next five days. Another vaccine being manufactured by Moderna, which also requires two doses, could be available as soon as a week after the Pfizer vaccine gets the OK from federal regulators.

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul and John Ingold, Staff writers


Colorado’s final coronavirus vaccine preparations include practicing for high-stakes delivery road trips

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Vail Health Hospital security officer Chris Thompson, left, and Vail police Officer Dwight Henninger, right, escort pharmacist Jessica Peterson, second from right, down the hospital’s hallways with a shipment of mock COVD-19 vaccine on Dec. 8, 2020 in Vail. (Pool photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

At 8:06 a.m. on Tuesday, a plain cardboard box about the size of a large suitcase was placed on a dolly and wheeled out of a building near the busy runways at Denver International Airport. 

The precious cargo inside represented — hopefully — the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic: vials of a mock COVID-19 vaccine.

Even though the vials were useless against preventing infection, ensuring their safe transport was one of the final hurdles before Coloradans start getting inoculated against the coronavirus. 

That could happen within a week as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mulls emergency-use authorization for the vaccine made by the multinational drug corporation Pfizer.

“It’s amazing, to be completely truthful,” said Leo Gomez, co-owner of the medical transport company Swift Courier Services, who wheeled out the box. Jet engines roared in the background.

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Jared Polis sued by white barbershop owner over race-based COVID-19 aid

12:46 PM | 12-09-2020?

A Colorado Springs barbershop owner has sued the governor in relation to roughly $4 million in coronavirus relief designated for minority-owned small businesses, claiming the funding is unconstitutional and the race-based requirement should be removed.

Locals Barbershop owner Etienne Hardre, who is white, filed the lawsuit against Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, the state minority business office and its director. Hardre argued that the aid intended for businesses that are at least 51% minority-owned is based entirely on race and is discriminatory, The Denver Post reported.

“The Supreme Court has held that if you are going to do race-conscious measures, you are required to specify the past or present discrimination you are remedying,” Hardre’s attorney Michael Kuhn said. “And societal, so-called systemic racism isn’t sufficient.”

The Colorado governor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment from the AP about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said Hardre lost a third of his barbershop’s revenue during the pandemic, but since he is white, he can’t receive the aid designated for minority-owned businesses.

“We have nothing against minorities, minorities are fantastic,” Hardre said. “However, everybody, all Americans, all Coloradans have been hurt. Business owners of all kinds, whites as well as minorities.”

The lawsuit seeks to remove the race-based requirement from qualifying for the aid, which is part of a larger $57 million package designated for small businesses and arts organizations. To qualify, businesses must follow COVID-19 safety restrictions.

The Associated Press


Guatemala COVID-19 chief headed back to Colorado medical job

5:35 PM | 12-08-2020?

GUATEMALA CITY — The man leading Guatemala’s effort against the new coronavirus said Tuesday he is leaving that post in order to return to his job at the University of Colorado Denver.

Epidemiologist Edwin Asturias, head of the Presidential Commission for the COVID-19 Emergency, said in a letter to the president he had complied with the majority of his commitment to the task and that the university had asked him to return his job in the U.S.

The physician and researcher took the job in his native country on June 4, on leave as a professor at the Colorado school, where he is a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases.

Oversight of the pandemic effort will now fall to the Public Health Ministry rather than a commission reporting to President Alejandro Giammattei.

Cases in Guatemala, as in many parts of the world, have been rising, partly due to the passage of hurricanes that have left more than 300,000 Guatemalans in shelters that often lack adequate measures against the pandemic.

Guatemala has reported about 126.000 infections and nearly 4,300 deaths attributed to the virus.

— The Associated Press


Weld County commissioners OK $2 million relief program after state shuts out noncompliant counties

2:55 PM | 12-08-2020?

Weld County has launched its own pandemic relief program after being excluded from a broader state program because its commissioners declined to enforce state health orders.

The $2 million grant program was announced Tuesday, with the first chunks of funding available by the end of the month. The grants are aimed at businesses affected directly by state restrictions since Nov. 1, including restaurants, bars, events venues, gyms and arcades.

“Our small, public-facing businesses have taken the brunt of negative impacts due to state policy changes, and it is the desire of this board to provide relief to those businesses which serve as the core of our communities,” commissioner Mike Freeman said in a press release Tuesday.

The grants will come from the county’s economic development fund and will be administered through Upstate Colorado, which also distributed the county’s CARES Act funding earlier this year.

Weld County has come under fire for refusing to enforce public health orders including business occupancy limits. A $37 million relief package passed during the state legislature’s special session excluded businesses in Weld and other counties that are not following state restrictions. The bill includes caveats for businesses that comply with health orders, even if their city or county does not.

In response to noncompliant businesses, the state has also suspended or revoked liquor licenses and other certifications that are required for some to stay open.

Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


First gentleman home from hospital after COVID-19 treatment

2:01 PM | 12-08-2020?

Marlon Reis, the partner of Gov. Jared Polis, was released from the hospital Tuesday after contracting coronavirus 10 days ago and checking into the hospital for treatment over the weekend. 

Reis, 39, is “feeling well” and was advised by his doctor to continue taking steroids for two more days, according to the governor’s office. He spent two nights at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital after the governor drove him there Sunday evening. 

“I am so thankful to the doctors, nurses, and staff and for the support and well wishes we have received from friends, neighbors, and Coloradans during this time,” Reis said, according to an emailed news release. “I hold everyone who has been affected by this deadly virus in my heart. Jared and I continue to encourage our fellow Coloradans to remain vigilant, wear masks, stay six feet apart, avoid gatherings, and wash your hands regularly.”

The governor announced Nov. 25 that he and Reis had been exposed to COVID-19 and later revealed that a staffer who met with the governor had the virus. Polis and Reis learned Nov. 28 that they had both tested positive for coronavirus. 

The governor’s symptoms, including headaches and trouble sleeping, have been mild, he said. 

Polis drove Reis home from the hospital Tuesday and tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he was home. “Marlon and I are so thankful for the doctors, nurses, and staff who took care of him while he was there,” the governor said. 

The governor’s office had called the trip to the hospital a precautionary move. Reis received dexamethasone, a steroid, and remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug. He had not required oxygen, according to a Monday statement from the governor’s office. 

Read the full story here.

Jen Brown, Staff writer


What we know and don’t know about the coronavirus infections of Colorado’s governor and his partner

6:03 PM | 12-07-2020?
Gov.-elect Jared Polis stands for the colors with his partner, Marlon Reis, during his inauguration at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (Pool photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Pool)

Marlon Reis, the partner of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, remains hospitalized Monday with the coronavirus after being admitted over the weekend.

Reis, 39, was taken to a hospital by Polis on Sunday after suffering from shortness of breath and a worsening cough, symptoms that developed eight days after testing positive for COVID-19. The governor, who also has coronavirus, has had only minor symptoms and is doing well, according to his office.

Just 48 hours before Reis was taken to a hospital, the governor’s office said Reis and Polis were experiencing mild symptoms, recovering and planning to resume in-person activities on Wednesday. 

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Three more Colorado prisoners die from suspected coronavirus infections, bringing pandemic total to 14

4:45 PM | 12-07-2020?
An aerial image of Sterling Correctional Facility in northeast Colorado. (Google Images screenshot)

Three more Colorado prison inmates have died after apparently contracting COVID-19, bringing the total number who have succumbed to the virus since the pandemic began to 14. 

The Colorado Department of Corrections says the deaths include:

  • A 72-year-old Sterling Correctional Facility inmate who died at Sterling Regional Medical Center on Wednesday. He had been at the hospital since Nov. 18. 
  • A 54-year-old Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility inmate who died Friday at Parkview Hospital in Pueblo. He had been at the hospital since Nov. 15. 
  • A 72-year-old Sterling Correctional Facility inmate who died at Sterling Regional Medical Center on Friday. He had been at the hospital since Nov. 26. 

All three inmates had COVID-19 symptoms, but the CDOC has refused to release individual inmate testing information. The deaths, however, are linked to coronavirus on the state’s prison disease dashboard, which tracks COVID-19 infections and fatalities. 

The state has not released the names of any of the inmates who have died.

More than 5,600 Colorado prisoners have contracted COVID-19. As of Monday afternoon, 2,152 had active infections.

Six of the coronavirus deaths have been among inmates at Sterling Correctional Facility, which is contending with its second major outbreak of the disease. 

The ACLU of Colorado is suing Gov. Jared Polis and the corrections department, seeking to compel the release of inmates to reduce the chances of COVID-19 spread in prison.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Start of Colorado’s winter high school sports season delayed because of coronavirus unknowns

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Gov. Jared Polis and Rhonda Blanford-Green, commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association, pose with student-athletes at Wellshire Golf Course on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The winter high school sports season in Colorado, also known as Season B, has been delayed because of the prevalence of coronavirus in the state.

The Colorado High School Activities Association said Monday that it corresponded with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Sunday night. CDPHE revealed that is has decided the scheduled Jan. 4 start date for the CHSAA’s 2020-21 sports calendar was too soon.

“At this time, we do not have enough information about what disease incidence and hospitalization capacity will look like in January, and therefore are unable to make a determination regarding indoor high school athletics in Season B,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, who leads the state’s health department, wrote in a letter to CHSAA. “Season B high school sports would operate based on the restrictions in the level of the dial in the county in which the school resides. For counties in level red, this means no indoor group sports are authorized.”

Hunsaker Ryan said the priority for next year is resuming in-person classes.

“Season B sports are conducted mainly indoors during the colder months, which reduces the ability to assure social distancing,” she wrote in her letter. “This in turn may further promote disease transmission at a time when we need to ensure that students and teachers are protected and that in-person learning is the highest priority.”

CHSAA said it will propose a Feb. 1 start date for Season B. The plan is for CHSAA to meet with state health officials in mid-January to reassess Colorado’s coronavirus situation and the start of the winter sports season.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Which Coloradans should receive the coronavirus vaccine first? The answer depends on who you ask.

7:57 AM | 12-07-2020?

Here’s a simple question for a pandemic where nothing is ever as simple as it seems: When should college students living in dorms get the coronavirus vaccine?

In one way of looking at this question, college-age people are among the least likely Coloradans to die from COVID-19 or to need hospitalization, making them among the state’s least vulnerable. Back of the line, then.

In another way of looking at the question, people who live in dorms have no way to socially distance, making them among the state’s most vulnerable for both catching and spreading the virus. So step right up.

After months of quiet debate in Zoom meetings for committees with cumbersome acronyms, these questions have now taken on a very public urgency. The first doses of vaccine for Colorado are about to hit the mail. And the state this week is expected to release an updated plan for who will receive those first doses — right as Gov. Jared Polis signals that he disagrees with a key line of thinking in the original plan.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Coronavirus is ravaging Colorado nursing homes and other senior care centers again, killing hundreds more

7:56 AM | 12-07-2020?
Brookdale Parkplace in Denver, photographed on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. An outbreak at the facility that began in October has sickened five residents, killing one of them. An April outbreak there sickened as many as seven residents and killed as many as five. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Nursing homes and other senior care centers in Colorado are being ravaged by the latest surge of coronavirus, a chilling repeat of the spring when thousands of residents were infected with the disease and hundreds died. 

Through Wednesday, nearly 200 active, ongoing outbreaks at such facilities in recent weeks had led to at least 3,300 infections and more than 300 deaths, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data. Thousands of staff members are catching the disease, too, and as many as three have died as a result of active outbreaks that have begun over the past three months.

The situation is similar to what unfolded in Colorado in March, April and May, when COVID-19 first spread, mostly unchecked, for weeks through senior care centers as health officials struggled to understand the disease and how it is transmitted. Once again, coronavirus is not being stopped by regulations enacted by Gov. Jared Polis and his public health team in an effort to protect vulnerable people living in long-term care facilities, including testing regimens for staff and residents and limited visitation.

“They are helpful,” Doug Farmer, CEO of the Colorado Health Care Association and Center for Assisted Living, said of the protective policies put in place. “But none of those things alone — or even together — are a guarantee you can keep it all the way out.”

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado governor’s spouse, First Gentleman Marlon Reis, is hospitalized because of coronavirus

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Marlon Reis attends a news conference on voting in October 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ spouse, First Gentleman Marlon Reis, has been hospitalized because of worsening COVID-19 symptoms.

The governor’s office, which called the move precautionary, announced the hospitalization on Sunday night.

“Over the last 24 hours, First Gentleman Marlon Reis started to experience a slightly worsening cough and shortness of breath on day eight after being diagnosed with COVID,” the governor’s office said in a written statement Sunday. “The governor drove the first gentleman in his personal vehicle to the hospital. We will continue to update the general public as new information is available.”

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


More than 46,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine will soon head to Colorado. Here’s what happens next.

5:13 PM | 12-04-2020?

The state Health Department on Friday announced that it has placed its first order with the federal government for coronavirus vaccine — 46,800 doses of Pfizer’s not-yet-approved vaccine.

“The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is a major turning point in this pandemic, and we will act as swiftly as possible to get it distributed once it is approved,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Pfizer and another drug company, Moderna, have both asked the federal government to provide emergency authorizations for their vaccines. The approval for Pfizer’s could come as early as next week. In a news release, CDPHE said Pfizer — which will handle the distribution of its vaccine itself — plans to ship orders to states within 24 hours of receiving the federal government’s OK.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Pitkin County, home to Aspen, will make all visitors sign coronavirus affidavit

9:24 PM | 12-03-2020?
The Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain in March 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

A county in Colorado will require visitors to sign an online affidavit that states they had a negative coronavirus test at most three days prior to arrival or, once arriving, that they will quarantine until they test negative or until 14 days has elapsed.

Pitkin County implemented the measure on Tuesday and it will take effect on Dec. 14, said county manager Jon Peacock. Pitkin County is home to Aspen’s four ski areas — Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass — and will be the only county in the state with similar requirements.

Visitors will also be asked to certify that they and their potential dependents have been symptom free for 10 days prior to arrival.

A visitor constitutes anyone who arrives to Pitkin County for an overnight stay from outside of Pitkin, Eagle or Garfield counties, The Aspen Times reported.

— The Associated Press


Distribution test for COVID-19 vaccine hits snag in Colorado after delivery never comes

4:56 PM | 12-03-2020?
A man receives a dose of an experimental coronavirus vaccine as part of a clinical trial for a vaccine candidate developed by BioNTech, which is based in Germany, and Pfizer. (Provided by BioNTech)

Health officials in Colorado say they never received one of two deliveries sent as part of an effort to test the nation’s vaccine distribution system because of a mistake on a mailing label, offering a glimpse into what could go wrong when the actual vaccine for the coronavirus is distributed in the coming weeks and months.

In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chose Colorado and nine other jurisdictions across the country to participate in a pilot run of an “end-to-end logistics readiness test” for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

State health officials in Colorado initially announced Nov. 25 they had received a thermal shipper designed to contain the vaccine, as well as a “mock” ancillary kit, which typically includes supplies such as syringes, needles, alcohol prep pads, surgical masks, face shields and vaccination cards.

But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday night saying the state received the thermal shipper, but the ancillary kit was accidentally sent to Kentucky.

“These materials were not critical for the test and did not cause any problems,” according to the statement. “The state completed its portion of the simulation successfully and learned along the way. Situations like this allow the state to be prepared for ‘real life scenarios’ that we might face as the vaccine is distributed in order to effectively deal with them.”

To successfully complete the test, the state was expected to identify a location to receive the shipment, use the CDC’s Vaccine Tracking System with a simulated national drug code and report that it had received the thermal shipper and “mock” ancillary kits.

The state health department did not say which participant in the program sent the supplies to the wrong state and did not respond to a request for a phone interview. Meanwhile, communications between The Associated Press and the four companies involved in the pilot program — FedEx, UPS, Pfizer and the pharmaceutical supplier McKesson — did not clear up who made the mistake, and the CDC did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Regardless of which company sent the shipment to the wrong place, the error underscores the importance of testing logistical systems before the real vaccine is distributed. It also shows that something as seemingly harmless as a mislabeled address could be the difference between life and death among those who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, including nursing home residents who will be among the first to receive the vaccine.

Colorado has been hit with a substantial spike in COVID-19 cases, with one in 40 residents believed to be contagious. More than 241,000 people in the state have tested positive, and more than 2,700 have died from the virus since it started its rapid spread in the spring, according to state health officials.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

— Thomas Piepert, The Associated Press


One out of every 40 Coloradans are actively contagious with COVID-19

1:25 PM | 12-03-2020?

One out of every 40 Coloradans is actively contagious with the coronavirus, according to the latest modeling from the Colorado School of Public Health.

Dr. Jon Samet, dean of the school, presented the modeling in a video briefing with reporters on Thursday. He said that estimate, the worst since the pandemic reached Colorado, doesn’t take into account gatherings during Thanksgiving.

It will be several more days, if not a few weeks, before the true impact of the holiday is known. Before Thanksgiving, the state’s COVID situation appeared to be improving.

“We need to be maintaining as high a level of transmission control as possible,” Samet warned.

Samet said that approximately 16.5% of the state’s population has been infected with COVID-19 to date.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


With coronavirus vaccines just days away from arriving, a new poll shows a large number of Coloradans still don’t want one

12:00 PM | 12-03-2020?
A man receives a dose of an experimental coronavirus vaccine as part of a clinical trial for a vaccine candidate developed by BioNTech, which is based in Germany, and Pfizer. (Provided by BioNTech)

The first vaccines against COVID-19 could begin arriving in the state in a matter of days, but a new poll released Thursday found that about a third of Coloradans still don’t want to receive one.

The poll, from the advocacy organization Healthier Colorado, found that only 60% of Coloradans say they will get vaccinated against the coronavirus when they are able to. The percentage of Black and Hispanic Coloradans who say they will get vaccinated was lower, 52% and 56%, respectively.

The poll was conducted online and sampled 1,008 Coloradans who voted in this year’s election. The question asked survey-takers to assume that the coronavirus vaccines offered would be both federally approved and free of charge. The poll, which was conducted by the Republican-leaning firm Magellan Strategies and the Democratic-leaning firm Keating Research, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.09 percentage points.

“It’s going to be up to us here in Colorado to set the record straight on COVID-19 vaccines,” Jake Williams, Healthier Colorado’s executive director, said in a statement. “The polling shows that we have work to do in building confidence in these vaccines, and our economic recovery depends upon our ability to do so. Fake news is a pandemic in itself, and we need to fight it for the sake of people’s health and our economy.”

The new poll is just the latest to show middling support for COVID-19 vaccines in Colorado. A Colorado Health Foundation poll released in September found only 65% of Coloradans said they would choose to get vaccinated. A poll for AARP released the same month reported even lower numbers.

Vaccines can provide individual protection to people. But, because they are never 100% effective, they work best when they cause a community to reach herd immunity levels — when enough people are immune to a virus that it can’t readily find new people to infect.

Experts estimate populations will need 70% immunity in order to reach herd immunity from COVID-19. That means low vaccination rates could hamper Colorado’s ability to banish the pandemic once and for all.

The drug companies Pfizer and Moderna have both applied for emergency federal approval for their COVID-19 vaccines. But doses of those vaccines are expected to begin arriving in Colorado within just a few days so they can be pre-staged and ready to go when federal approval arrives. Health care workers will be first in line to receive the vaccines.

The vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna have shown extraordinary efficacy in clinical trials — upwards of 95%. And Gov. Jared Polis said this week that high efficacy will help Colorado reach herd immunity even if there is a persistent chunk of people who don’t want to be vaccinated.

“The pandemic aspect of it is over once a sufficient number of people have been vaccinated,” Polis said. “I’ll leave that to the scientists to say whether that is 50% or 60% or 80%. But it’s a lot lower percentage of people before the pandemic’s over at a 94% efficacy than it would have been if the vaccine was only 60 or 70% effective.”

John Ingold, Staff writer


ACLU asks judge to issue emergency order reducing Colorado’s prison population amid coronavirus outbreaks

8:34 AM | 12-03-2020?

The ACLU of Colorado on Wednesday asked a judge to issue an emergency order reducing Colorado’s prison population in the wake of four inmate deaths over two days linked to coronavirus. 

The request argues that Gov. Jared Polis has been too slow in taking steps to protect the 17,621 people incarcerated in Colorado prisons from contracting coronavirus, and that exposing them to the disease amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The advocacy group filed the request for a preliminary injunction in Denver District Court, naming Polis and Department of Corrections Executive Director Dean Williams as defendants. 

Read the whole story here.

— Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


Colorado’s coronavirus surge swamps public health workers who track case counts, exposures

8:32 AM | 12-03-2020?

Colorado’s daily flood of new coronavirus cases is overwhelming the local public health officials who work to accurately count cases and inform anyone who might have been exposed by each new contagious person. 

It’s become impossible to keep up. 

The Colorado Sun checked in with public health workers in several counties to find out how their ability to conduct contact-tracing has changed in the last few weeks as cases have spiked and if they’re confident in their case tallies. 

The state has reached its worst point to date in the pandemic, with thousands of new cases reported each day. The statewide count moved past 240,000 Wednesday. 

A common theme across Colorado public health: Many businesses are failing to self-report outbreaks, as required by law, and people who receive positive test results need to inform anyone they might have exposed because contact tracers can’t get to them all.

Read the whole story here.

— Jennifer Brown and John Ingold, Staff writers


Denver air traffic controller’s positive coronavirus test causes flight delays

7:58 AM | 12-02-2020?
The view from the airport operations tower at Denver International Airport on July 19, 2019, which was forecast to be the hub’s busiest day ever. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Flights to and from Denver were briefly halted then delayed for several hours on Tuesday after an air traffic controller tested positive for COVID-19.

About 250 flights in and out of Denver International Airport were delayed and more than 40 canceled on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.com, although it was not clear how many were due to air traffic control issues.

The Federal Aviation Administration said flight-control work slowed down at the airport after workers were moved to a training room. That led the FAA to hold up flights in and out of the region for nearly an hour Tuesday afternoon.

After flights resumed, delays continued and affected Denver-bound flights at airports throughout the country, the FAA said.

An airport spokeswoman said operations were expected to return to normal by early evening.

The facility was cleaned later Tuesday, according to FAA. The FAA did not identify the controller or provide information about their condition. It was the fourth time that someone tested positive at the same facility, which handles planes approaching or leaving nearby airports or flying through the area.

A similar facility nearby in Longmont, Colorado, has had employees test positive for COVID-19 nine times.

Nearly 250 FAA facilities including air traffic control towers have had workers test positive during the pandemic. In some cases, remaining controllers are shifted to a backup facility, and at other times entire facilities have closed. Most of those closures have been brief, according to information on the agency’s website.

The Associated Press


Colorado reports four new prisoner deaths linked to coronavirus over two days

4:50 PM | 12-01-2020?
The Colorado Territorial Prison in Cañon City. (Frank Carey, via Creative Commons)

The Colorado Department of Corrections on Tuesday reported four more prisoner deaths linked to COVID-19 over the past two days, bringing the total number of fatalities since the pandemic began to 11.

The new deaths include:

  • A 62-year-old man being held at Fremont Correctional Facility who died Monday at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs after experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
  • A 66-year-old inmate at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility who died Monday at Parkview Hospital in Pueblo after experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
  • A 74-year-old inmate at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility who died Tuesday at Parkview Hospital in Pueblo.

The CDOC also listed the death Monday of a 64-year-old prisoner from Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility as being linked to coronavirus, though the person did not have symptoms of the disease. Annie Skinner, a spokesman for the agency, said she couldn’t answer questions about why the inmate’s death was tied to COVID-19 because of federal health privacy laws.

“We remain committed to fighting this virus with every tool we have, and we will continue to work with medical and public health experts to help prevent and mitigate the spread of this virus inside our facilities,” Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Dean Williams said in a written statement. “Across the world, this insidious virus has taken hundreds of thousands of loved ones from their friends and family during the course of this pandemic. Unfortunately, our incarcerated population is no exception, and our thoughts are with all of the friends and family members of the incarcerated men who have died over the last eight months.”

CDOC says its main tool in fighting the spread of the virus has been testing. On Tuesday, the agency announced that it has deployed BinaxNow rapid tests to all of its facilities.

More than 4,500 Colorado prisoners have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic reached the state. As of Tuesday, 1,558 of those were considered active cases.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado lawmakers demand counties comply with coronavirus restrictions to access relief money

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A line of greenhouse buildings for dining use during the coronavirus pandemic serve customers for the Annette Restaurant at the Stanley Marketplace on Nov. 7, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado lawmakers are trying to use coronavirus relief dollars as a way to persuade counties to follow Gov. Jared Polis’ COVID-19 restrictions. 

A bipartisan bill that won preliminary approval on Monday, the first day of a special legislative session, would withhold direct-aid payments to small businesses and arts organizations in counties that refuse to comply with mandates issued by the state’s health department to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The legislation appears to target conservative Weld County, where commissioners have said they won’t enforce red-level coronavirus mandates imposed on the county Nov. 22, including a ban on indoor dining and a ban on all personal gatherings. 

“This money was directed toward those businesses that have been most impacted by the public health orders,” said Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat who is spearheading the legislation. “If your county is refusing to (enforce) public health orders, the impacts are different.”

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado governor says he has very mild symptoms after testing positive for coronavirus on Saturday

12:49 PM | 12-01-2020?
Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday that he and his partner, Marlon Reis, have “very mild symptoms” three days after testing positive for COVID-19, providing some of his first public remarks since contracting the disease.

“This is just such a lottery when you get this thing,” Polis said during a video briefing with reporters.

He thanked people who have sent him and Reis well wishes. Polis said he is hopeful that he and Reis will continue to be OK.

“I’m certainly not out of the woods,” Polis said. “Nor is Marlon. As we know, this can certainly take a different turn after several days. But, so far, I feel very good.”

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Weld County Sheriff’s Office settles class-action lawsuit from ACLU on jail coronavirus conditions

11:03 AM | 12-01-2020?

The Weld County Sheriff’s Office and ACLU of Colorado announced a settlement Tuesday in a class action lawsuit that sought to protect people in the county’s jail from contracting coronavirus.

The lawsuit, filed last April, alleged that Sheriff Steve Reams failed to protect inmates from contracting COVID-19, leading to rampant coronavirus infections. At least one person died after contracting the disease. 

As part of the settlement, the sheriff’s office agreed to a handful of provisions to help minimize coronavirus outbreaks, including placing medically vulnerable people in cells by themselves, providing masks and requiring that they be worn, and implementing measures to keep jail occupancy low, such as issuing personal-recognizance bonds and court summons rather than arresting people.

“With this resolution, people held in the Weld County jail as well as staff and the public at large stand a fighting chance against this virus,” ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein said in a written statement Tuesday.

Colorado’s jails and prisons have been hotbeds for coronavirus outbreaks. As of Monday, there were 1,513 active coronavirus cases in the state’s prisons. At least seven prisoners have died after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

— Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


WATCH: Dr. Anthony Fauci joins Gov. Jared Polis for coronavirus briefing

9:18 AM | 12-01-2020?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the nation’s leading coronavirus experts, joined Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday for a briefing on COVID-19.

Polis and his partner, Marlon Reis, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. As of Sunday night, the governor was asymptomatic.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


“5-star” exemption program pioneered in Mesa County opens to other places under red-level restrictions

3:45 PM | 11-30-2020?
Grimm Brothers Brewhouse Taproom Manager and Brewer Guy McConnell serves growlers at the Loveland brewery on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. The taproom and several other Loveland businesses remained open for indoor service despite Larimer County’s Level Red restrictions. (Valerie Mosley/Special to the Colorado Sun)

State officials agreed to consider new county-by-county variances to red-level shutdown restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, but warned that rising case loads mean they will cast a skeptical eye on anyone hoping to replicate Mesa County’s “5-star” exemption program.

Read the full story here.

— Michael Booth, Special to The Colorado Sun


Broncos won’t have any of their four quarterbacks available Sunday because of coronavirus

8:12 PM | 11-28-2020?
Empower Field at Mile High Stadium. (Unsplash photo)

The Denver Broncos won’t have any of their four quarterbacks available Sunday when they face the New Orleans Saints because of coronavirus concerns, multiple people familiar with the NFL’s investigation told The Associated Press.

One person told The AP that starter Drew Lock, backup Brett Rypien and practice squad veteran Blake Bortles were deemed high-risk close contacts with No. 3 quarterback Jeff Driskel on Wednesday, the day before Driskel tested positive for COVID-19.

Another person, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic, said the four quarterbacks apparently weren’t wearing their masks the whole time they were together as required by the league’s pandemic protocols.

The people spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because the NFL and the Broncos hadn’t made any announcements after Lock, Rypien and Bortles were ordered off the practice field Saturday and into isolation.

The Broncos were scrambling to prepare practice squad rookie receiver Kendall Hinton and No. 3 running back Royce Freeman to share snaps at quarterback Sunday when Denver (4-6) hosts the Saints (8-2).

Hinton played quarterback for three seasons in college and Freeman is the team’s emergency QB.

The NFL cleared the Broncos to practice on Thanksgiving Day after Driskel tested positive for the virus and again Friday after kick returner Deontae Spencer tested positive along with two staffers. But coach Vic Fangio decided to shut down the building Friday and the team conducted meetings remotely.

Lock, Rypien and Bortles were loosening up before Saturday’s short walkthrough practice when they were pulled off the field and sent home.

They’ll have to quarantine for several days and in order to return next week will have to continue to test negative for COVID-19. The NFL isn’t allowing any teams to gather until Wednesday out of concern the Thanksgiving holiday might have exposed players to infection.

After learning of their dire situation at quarterback, the Broncos’ brain trust of Fangio, general manager John Elway and team president and CEO Joe Ellis spoke with officials from NFL headquarters.

The league decided not force Denver to forfeit the game or to postpone it like they did the Steelers-Ravens matchup that was pushed back from Thanksgiving to Sunday and then again to Tuesday night after the Ravens’ virus outbreak.

A virus outbreak in New England last month forced the Broncos’ game at Gillette Stadium to get pushed back a week and essentially cost Denver its bye week because of the domino effect on the team’s schedule.

The Saints own the league’s second-ranked run defense and last week sacked Falcons QB Matt Ryan eight times, a daunting proposition for anyone who lines up under center on Sunday.

Some Broncos expressed frustration on social media about the NFL not pushing back their game like it did the Steelers-Ravens game, which would have at least given Denver’s makeshift offense a better chance to prepare.

Tight end Noah Fant tweeted, “I’m not one to complain but @NFL y’all can’t possibly send us into a game without a QB. The most important position to an offense. We don’t have got a backup.”

He followed that tweet with this one: “Anyone know if Peyton Manning is busy tomorrow? Laughing but serious.”

Von Miller, who’s on injured reserve while recovering from ankle surgery, posted a photo on Instagram of him with about to toss a football and wrote, “Been waiting my whole life for this moment! ‘Von ELWAY.’ Imma passing QB don’t need to run much! Ankle is good for QB.”

Fangio said Saturday morning before the developments at quarterback that there were no new COVID-19 cases and he reiterated that he had no worries about his other QBs getting sick because contract tracing had shown they hadn’t been within 6 feet of Driskel before he tested positive.

The league’s contact tracing protocols include checking electronic contact devices, interviews and review of surveillance, and the league has been busy investigating coronavirus cases on multiple teams.

The news on the quarterbacks broke Saturday about the same time the Broncos announced they had signed left tackle Garett Bolles to a four-year contract extension. Bolles, a 2017 first-round draft pick, has shown dramatic improvement this season after the Broncos declined his fifth-year option.

— Arnie Stapleton, The Associated Press


Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, his husband test positive for COVID-19

8:10 PM | 11-28-2020?

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and his husband, Marlon Reis, have tested positive for COVID-19.

The pair announced their diagnosis on Saturday night. The governor’s office says both are asymptomatic and isolating in their home.

“Marlon and I are feeling well so far, and are in good spirits,” the governor said in a written statement. “No person or family is immune to this virus.”

Read the whole story here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Pueblo extends its 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew through the rest of 2020

11:04 AM | 11-27-2020?
A scene from the city of Pueblo pictured on Dec. 12, 2018. Pueblo is home to the Colorado State Fair. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Pueblo has extended its 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. coronavirus curfew through the rest of 2020 as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue at an alarming rate in the southern Colorado city.

“We are entering a grave period for Pueblo, our hospitals continue to be near or at full capacity daily, and deaths continue to rise. In November, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths have quadrupled from October,” Mayor Nick Gradisar said in a written statement. “The curfew, (along with other) recent health orders, are the best tools we have to curb the spread of this deadly virus.”

Pueblo is among more than 20 counties under red-level coronavirus restrictions mandated by the state. Those restrictions include a ban on indoor dining and all personal gatherings.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado governor allows restaurants to hold off on paying state sales taxes ahead of special legislative session

7:43 AM | 11-26-2020?
Friends enjoy wine and a meal inside one of the greenhouse buildings built for dining during the coronavirus at the Annette Restaurant at the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday signed an executive order allowing Colorado restaurants to delay paying up to $2,000 in state sales taxes that they collected in November.

The move was made in anticipation of next week’s legislative session, when state lawmakers are expected to pass a bill allowing restaurants to keep up to $2,000 in state sales taxes that they have collected or will collect in November, December, January and February.

“Colorado’s restaurants, bars and food trucks are among the small businesses that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic,” Polis said in a written statement. “We all want to keep these businesses open as a vital part of our lives and culture.”

MORE: Will Colorado’s special legislative session save restaurants? “Probably not,” industry leader says.

Colorado restaurants would have to make about $70,000 a month in sales to fully qualify for the $2,000 benefit. The Colorado Restaurant Association says while the relief is unlikely to save eateries on the brink, it will help establishments around the margins.

Polis’ order allows restaurants to delay their November sales tax payments for 30 days, which should be long enough for state lawmakers to pass the tax retention measure.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Denver mayor flies to Mississippi for Thanksgiving after asking the public to stay home

7:35 AM | 11-26-2020?
Mayor Michael Hancock gives a COVID-19 update in the City and County Building’s Parr-Widener Room. May 5, 2020. (Pool photo by Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock flew to Mississippi to visit family despite sending messages on social media and to city staff asking them to avoid traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Hancock flew out of Denver on Wednesday to spend Thanksgiving with his wife and youngest daughter, who are already in Mississippi.

“That is incredibly disappointing,” Dr. Sandy Johnson, head of the University of Denver’s school of global health affairs, said of Hancock’s actions. “So many folks in the city of Denver have been doing the right thing. Unless there is some family emergency compelling the travel this just seems hypocritical at a time when we need leaders to lead by example.”

Democratic state Rep. Kyle Mullica, who is also an emergency room nurse who has treated COVID-19 patients, said Hancock’s decision damages his credibility.

“I don’t expect people to be perfect,” said Mullica, a Northglenn Democrat. “But I think there is an expectation that you essentially try to practice what you preach.”

On Wednesday evening, Hancock released a public apology admitting that he went against his own public guidance.

“As a public official, whose conduct is rightly scrutinized for the message it sends to others … I apologize to the residents of Denver who see my decision as conflicting with the guidance to stay at home for all but essential travel,” he tweeted.

In his statement, Hancock also asked for forgiveness.

“I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head,” he said.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who has said he would not spend the holiday with his extended family, declined to comment when asked about Hancock’s decision.

Michael Strott, the mayor’s spokesman, said Hancock does not believe his actions contradict his public messaging and that the mayor typically hosts a 50-person family dinner for the holiday but will be spending Thanksgiving with just his wife and daughter this year, albeit in Mississippi. The rest of the family will join the dinner virtually.

“(Hancock) has told people to rethink their Thanksgiving plans,” Strott said. “He has also said that if you do travel to follow health and safety guidelines and the mayor will still follow health and safety guidelines upon his return.”

On Wednesday morning, Hancock tweeted public health recommendations that suggested residents should avoid unnecessary travel. He also sent a memo to city staff that was obtained by The Denver Post.

“As the holidays approach, we all long to be with our families in person, but with the continued rise in cases, I’m urging you to refrain from travel this Thanksgiving holiday,” the memo said.

Colorado has been experiencing a substantial spike in cases that state experts predict will result in the death of at least 2,000 more people by the end of December, the Post reported. The state reported its highest-ever number of cases in a single day on Nov. 13 with 6,439 confirmed cases of the virus.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

— The Associated Press


Gov. Jared Polis begins quarantine after exposure to person with coronavirus

7:32 AM | 11-26-2020?
Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s surge of coronavirus cases has reached the governor’s doorstep.

Gov. Jared Polis announced late Wednesday that he is entering quarantine after exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The governor said he was tested for the virus Wednesday night, with the results coming back negative.

But, because COVID-19’s incubation period can be up to two weeks, he is expected to be retested in the coming days.

Read the whole story here.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Colorado governor: Restaurants that don’t follow coronavirus rules could lose their licenses

4:13 PM | 11-24-2020?
An empty Potager restaurant in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on Friday, May 22, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis warned Tuesday that some Colorado restaurant owners who defy or ignore strict state health orders to stem spread of the coronavirus could lose their licenses to operate.

Colorado’s restaurant sector has been hit hard during the pandemic, with many forced to close and thousands of workers laid off.

In recent days, restaurants in counties designated “red” by the state in a color-coded scheme that gauges increasing COVID-19 infection cases have been forced to halt indoor dining.

“Every business in the state of Colorado needs to follow our laws and, whether you agree with it or not, in red counties, not having indoor dining is the law of Colorado,” Polis said. “Any type of business that violates a health order, whether it’s hepatitis, salmonella or COVID … could lose their license to operate.”

The Democratic governor’s comments came after several Loveland businesses in Larimer County signed a letter stating that they will continue operating at full indoor capacity even though the county was placed in the “red” restriction category on Tuesday.

Polis said government financial aid for the restaurant sector is coming — possibly in the form of sales tax breaks — when the Legislature convenes in a special session next week to consider relief measures for small businesses, public school students and residents hurt financially by the pandemic.

“It’s really important that we keep consumer confidence in places being safe. And we don’t want a few bad actors undermining that for the restaurant industry,” Polis said. “Especially at a time when I have called our state legislature to step up to help the good actors in the restaurant industry.”

— Patty Nieberg, The Associated Press


As Thanksgiving approaches and coronavirus rampages, Colorado’s ICU beds are growing scarce

2:16 PM | 11-24-2020?

In a week where hundreds of thousands of Coloradans are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday and the state’s coronavirus numbers continue to get worse, Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday delivered one of his strongest warnings to date about what the consequences of that travel could lead to.

If Colorado does nothing to change its current rate of transmission of the virus, the state’s model projects that 6,600 people will have died from COVID-19 by the end of the year. That’s more than double the current number of deaths in the state so far in the pandemic. Though deaths initially did not rise when cases did earlier in the fall, the number of deaths per day is now approaching levels seen during the worst of the spring pandemic surge.

On its current trajectory, the state will exceed its intensive-care hospital bed capacity in mid-January, according to the model. Already, ICU beds are growing scarce in the state. Polis said Tuesday there were only 25 ICU beds available in Denver, 14 in Colorado Springs, five in Pueblo and three in Weld County.

And the virus continues to spread rapidly throughout the state. The public health model estimates that one out of every 41 Coloradans is currently contagious with the virus, the highest level seen yet.

“It’s not a time to be fearful,” Polis said, “but a time to be very cautious.”

A let-up in social distancing over the Thanksgiving holiday would only make these numbers worse. If holiday gatherings result in an overall 5% decrease in transmission control, the state would have to activate its field hospitals, ICU bed capacity would be breached by mid-December and deaths could hit 7,400 by the end of the year, said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist. (The state’s model uses a general “transmission control” parameter to account for the impact of social distancing, mask-wearing and other efforts to slow the virus’ spread.)

For those reasons, Polis urged Coloradans to cancel travel plans and not celebrate Thanksgiving with anyone outside their household. He said that’s what he will be doing, forgoing the normal large-family gatherings he, his partner and their children typically enjoy.

“We simply love them too much and they love us too much to put one another at risk,” Polis said of his parents and other family members. “… I think most people don’t want to gamble with the lives of their, particularly, elderly family members.”

Gov. Jared Polis walks into a news conference on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, to announce new coronavirus restrictions in Colorado. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Herlihy said there has been one positive sign in recent data. The number of new cases reported each day has leveled off over the past few days. But Herlihy said it’s too soon to say if that is cause for relief.

“We’d like to see several more days worth of data to see if this is going to be a lasting trend,” she said.

Polis also announced Tuesday that he is forming a task force to look for ways to reopen schools that have switched to remote learning and to keep open those that are currently teaching in-person. The task force’s first meeting is Wednesday.

“We are going to be more hands-on in working with school districts and teachers and schools and families to get kids back to in-person learning in January,” Polis said. “… We can’t let the future of our kids become another casualty of this pandemic.”

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Mask rules in jails vary from county to county as pandemic worsens in Colorado

9:43 AM | 11-24-2020?
Inside Denver’s downtown detention center. Oct. 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty, Denverite)

Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic and amid the state’s largest surge in critical cases, how much protection jail inmates get from the virus depends a lot on where they’re incarcerated.

CPR News has found that jails across the state have varying policies on both supplying masks and requiring inmates to wear them throughout their jail stays.

In Arapahoe County’s jail, for example, inmates are issued a surgical mask once they’re booked but are allowed to take it off while they’re in the dayrooms. The sheriff’s office issues N95 masks to medically vulnerable people.

In Adams County, arrestees are tested for COVID-19 when they get to jail. If they are negative, they don’t have to wear masks when they’re in their housing units.

Read the whole story here.

— Allison Sherry, CPR News


Colorado researchers are gathering data on coronavirus survivors. Here’s what they’ve found.

9:24 AM | 11-24-2020?
A health care worker in the COVID-19 ICU at UCHealth Memorial in Colorado Springs. (Provided by UCHealth)

Eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, Colorado doctors and scientists have a growing study sample: tens of thousands of people in the state who have survived COVID-19. 

Their initial findings are beginning to trickle in, helping piece together the long-term effects of a virus that has killed more than 2,300 Coloradans and infected more than 200,000.

The first long-term study of COVID-19 Colorado survivors, from UCHealth, is finding that about one-third of highly symptomatic patients who survive reported that after six or seven weeks, they were still struggling. 

Read the whole story here.

— Michael Booth, Colorado Sun contributor and Jennifer Brown, Staff writer


Gov. Jared Polis signs executive order allowing hospitals to transfer patients without their consent

1:52 PM | 11-23-2020?
The emergency room entrance to Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, photographed on Oct. 22, 2019. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed an executive order allowing Colorado emergency rooms that reach capacity to turn away patients or transfer them to another facility without written or informed consent.

The move comes as hospitals across the state are filling up with COVID-19 patients. As of Monday afternoon, more than 1,500 people were hospitalized in Colorado because of the disease.

Intensive-care capacity was reached last week at Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo and in Mesa County. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says 11% of facilities are expecting ICU bed shortages in the next week as of Monday. Thirty-five percent of facilities are anticipating staffing shortages in the next seven days.

“Unfortunately, given the increase in infections, the number of persons seeking medical treatment at hospitals may far exceed the capacity of any given hospital,” Polis wrote in his order.

The executive order also allows CDPHE to “direct a hospital, skilled nursing facility, or other facility to accept patients.”

The order says facilities cannot consider a patient’s insurance status or ability to pay for their care when making transfer decisions. 

“Hospitals, physicians, health insurers or managed health care organizations, health care providers, public health workers, or emergency service providers that in good faith comply completely with this Executive Order shall be immune from civil or criminal liability,” the order also says.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Coronavirus has led to booming ranch sales in Colorado, across the West

9:24 AM | 11-23-2020?

BILLINGS, Mont. — The coronavirus is one of the likely factors fueling a boom in large ranch sales in the U.S. West, real estate industry professionals said.

Real estate brokers are experiencing high demand for ranches in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and Washington, The Billings Gazette reports.

“It’s the craziest year I’ve ever seen,” said Jim Taylor, director and real estate partner for Hall and Hall, which has offices in Montana and other Western states.

Taylor said buying a ranch is not always a compelling investment because the rate of return can be low. But he is working with buyers who see fewer stable alternatives.

“People look at them as an investment even though the ranching business isn’t good,” Taylor said.

Andy Rahn of Montana Land Source, a website tracking land listings and sales in the state, said factors driving buyers to rural areas can include a “get me out of here kind of mentality” concerning the pandemic.

That mindset may be propelled by fear of social unrest as well as mask and social distancing mandates with which buyers disagree.

Some in the industry theorize buyers believe rural areas are safer from COVID-19, while others said people who already planned to buy property in the future were spurred to action by the pandemic.

Executives now have the ability to work from home with greater ease and a higher level of social acceptance, reducing the need to be present in offices or travel to business meetings, Taylor said.

“That whole world is definitely changing,” Taylor said. “Now they can spend more time on their ranches.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

— The Associated Press


“Severe risk” coronavirus alert sent to residents of 20 Colorado counties under level-red restrictions

1:40 PM | 11-22-2020?

A blaring smartphone push alert warning of “severe” COVID-19 risk was sent out Sunday morning to residents in 20 Colorado counties that have been placed under level-red coronavirus restrictions.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says the alert was sent out to “notify Coloradans about the direness of the COVID-19 situation in our state.” It reached phones at about 9 a.m. 

“This region is at severe risk from deadly COVID,” the alert read. “Use caution.”

The alert was sent out by the state’s Emergency Operations Center. 

“We need everyone to avoid gatherings outside of their household, including Thanksgiving,” the CDPHE spokesperson said.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging in Colorado ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. State health officials and Gov. Jared Polis have warned that hospitals could be overwhelmed in the coming weeks if the trend does not abate.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado hotels are struggling to survive coronavirus

9:39 AM | 11-22-2020?

Add hotels to the growing list of business sectors fighting for survival as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its eighth month.

“I say to people, ‘I’m in a hotel and restaurant business in the middle of a pandemic, so that’s how I’m doing,’” said Walter Isenberg, president of Sage Hospitality. His line of hotels includes the Oxford and the Crawford in downtown Denver.

Denver-area hotels were less than half full in October. Occupancy was 47.7 percent, down from 78.6 percent in October of last year, according to data from STR, a hotel analytics firm.

Read the whole story here.

— Ben Markus, CPR News


In Colorado and across the U.S., people are proving to be the weakest link for coronavirus exposure apps

9:34 AM | 11-22-2020?

The app builders had planned for pranksters, ensuring that only people with verified COVID-19 cases could trigger an alert. They’d planned for heavy criticism about privacy, in many cases making the features as bare-bones as possible. But, as more states roll out smartphone contact-tracing technology, other challenges are emerging. Namely, human nature.

The problem starts with downloads. Stefano Tessaro calls it the “chicken-and-egg” issue: The system works only if a lot of people buy into it, but people will buy into it only if they know it works.

“Accuracy of the system ends up increasing trust, but it is trust that increases adoptions, which in turn increases accuracy,” Tessaro, a computer scientist at the University of Washington who was involved in creating that state’s forthcoming contact-tracing app, said in a lecture last month.

Read the whole story here.

— Rae Ellen Bichell, Kaiser Health News


Gov. Jared Polis: 1 out of every 49 Coloradans is now contagious with coronavirus

12:04 PM | 11-20-2020?

One in every 49 Coloradans is currently contagious with the coronavirus, Gov. Jared Polis said Friday, citing modeling data.

“This is the worst it has ever been,” Polis said of the state’s COVID-19 situation during a video briefing with reporters. 

Polis again pleaded with Coloradans to avoid gathering with people from other households for the next several weeks in an effort to abate the state’s trend of surging coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. 

“What was reasonably safe is no longer reasonably safe,” Polis said.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Weld County commissioners say they won’t enforce new coronavirus restrictions, setting up potential showdown with the state

12:04 PM | 11-20-2020?

As the state Health Department prepares to move Weld County to a higher level of restrictions amid a surge in coronavirus cases, the county’s board of commissioners has announced that it will do nothing to enforce those new restrictions.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment included Weld in a list of counties that will on Sunday move to red status, the second-most restrictive level behind a full stay-at-home order. At red-level restrictions, personal gatherings with people outside your household are banned, indoor dining at restaurants is prohibited and gyms and other businesses are limited to 10% of capacity.

On Friday, Weld County’s five-member Board of County Commissioners released a statement saying Weld County government would “promote and encourage residents and business owners to take individual responsibility and make decisions to protect themselves, their families, their community and their businesses.”

The statement continued: “The county will not enforce a rule confining individuals to their homes for an undetermined length of time; the county will not enforce a rule that states residents cannot have personal gatherings; the county will not tell the school districts how to provide education to their students; the county will not enforce a rule requiring a reduction of attendees in places of worship; the county will not enforce a rule demanding restaurants close their indoor dining areas; the county will not enforce any rule that forces a business to shut down or impedes their ability to operate.”

Weld’s commissioners have fought previous state public health restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic. The commissioners issued a similar statement following Gov. Jared Polis’ mask mandate, and the commissioners pushed to reopen the county’s economy following this spring’s statewide stay-at-home order earlier than the county’s public health director recommended.

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams also placed emphasis on personal responsibility in a post on Facebook on Thursday night shortly after CDPHE announced that Weld County will be moved to level red. The new restrictions go into effect at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

“The governor moved Weld County to ‘code red’,” Reams wrote. “Please remember that these recommendations and mandates are not law enforcement related and are a public health topic.  Wear a mask if you are at risk (if you choose to) and take the appropriate actions to keep safe.  #weareallessential”

If restaurants or other businesses operate in violation of the state’s restrictions, they could still face action against them. The Colorado Attorney General’s Office has sent dozens of cease and desist letters during the pandemic to businesses not complying with state orders. The state can also suspend the business license of places operating in violation of public health restrictions or it can enforce them through court order.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Denver Broncos will stop allowing fans to watch games in person at Empower Field at Mile High

10:13 AM | 11-20-2020?
Empower Field at Mile High Stadium. (Unsplash photo)

The Denver Broncos announced Friday that Sunday will be the final game at which fans will be able to watch games in person this year at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium.

The team says it made the decision “in consultation with state officials and public health experts.”

“Although we are confident in our strong safety protocols and have no evidence of any COVID-19 transmission traced to our home games, the increase in cases and hospitalizations locally requires us to adjust our future plans,” the team said in a written statement on Friday. “Taking this precaution is consistent with the recent guidelines issued by local officials to limit gatherings with the holiday season approaching.”

The Broncos play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 2:05 p.m. in Denver.

The state has allowed 5,700 fans to watch Broncos games at Empower Field over the past several weeks. But coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Denver and across the state have been sharply rising over that span.

The Broncos say they look forward to welcoming fans back in 2021.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Five more Colorado counties will move to level-red restrictions on Sunday

10:02 AM | 11-20-2020?

Starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday, five additional Colorado counties will move to the state’s level red coronavirus designation, meaning more restrictions on businesses and gatherings. 

Those counties include: Alamosa, Otero, Prowers, Weld and Pueblo. 

The addition of the five counties brings the total number moving to red-level restrictions to 20. Fifteen of the counties will fall under the level starting on Friday. Colorado has 64 counties. 

At level red, indoor dining shuts down, last call for alcohol sales at restaurants and bars is 8 p.m. and personal gatherings are prohibited. Any county-specific variances are likely to be rescinded.

Gov. Jared Polis changed Colorado’s coronavirus county dial system on Tuesday to make the red level less severe than it had been. Earlier, counties under the red level were supposed to be under lock down. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has added an additional color to the dial, purple, at which counties will have to lock down their residents. 

Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


Mesa County says all of its intensive-care hospital beds are full as coronavirus rages

3:12 PM | 11-19-2020?

There are no more intensive-care hospital beds available in Mesa County as it contends with a sharp rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. 

The county’s public health department announced that ICU capacity had been reached in a Thursday news release. Mesa County Public Health said hospitals are activating their surge capacity plans to ensure there is enough space for the region’s need. 

Grand Junction, which is Mesa County’s county seat, provides advanced health care for much of the Western Slope. 

The county is also pleading with retired or displaced health care professionals to return to active work, citing the potential for staffing shortages.

“This is a call to arms,” Richard Salgueiro, executive director of the VA Western Colorado Health Care System, said in a written statement.

For months, Mesa County was a coronavirus success story. It even attained the state’s protect-our-neighbors status, which is only given to counties with the least amount of COVID-19 transmission. But in the past two weeks, there have been over 2,000 new COVID-19 cases in Mesa County. 

The county will move to the state’s red level — denoting widespread coronavirus transmission — on  Friday, putting it on the edge of being locked down.

Lucy Haggard and Jesse Paul, Staff writers


JBS meatpacking plant, corporate headquarters in Greeley are dealing with second coronavirus outbreaks

1:20 PM | 11-19-2020?
The JBS meat-packing plant in Greeley resumed operations April 24, 2020, after a brief closure due to a coronavirus outbreak. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

The JBS meatpacking plant and the company’s corporate headquarters in Greeley are contending with their second coronavirus outbreaks since the pandemic began. 

As of Wednesday, 20 workers at the beef plant — where thousands work — had tested positive for COVID-19. An additional 34 people at the corporate headquarters have contracted the disease.

In the spring, at least 292 employees at the meatpacking plant caught the coronavirus. Six of them died, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data. 

At the corporate headquarters, five people caught coronavirus in the spring. 

“As the virus continues to spread in Weld County, we have seen an increase in the number of positive cases at our corporate office and our Greeley beef facility, but fortunately not nearly at the rate we are seeing in the local community,” JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett said in a written statement.

Bruett said the company has “aggressively implemented free, random surveillance testing of asymptomatic team members at our corporate offices and across our U.S. facilities, including our Greeley beef facility.” He added that the company has spent more than $200 on coronavirus health and safety measures.

Colorado has reported 494 coronavirus outbreaks this month. An outbreak is defined by the state health department as two people testing positive for COVID-19 in a span of two weeks.

In all of October, Colorado had 510 outbreaks — by far the greatest number since the pandemic began. November remains on pace to far exceed last month’s tally.

Lucy Haggard and Jesse Paul, Staff writers


Colorado ski areas can remain open under new coronavirus restrictions

7:42 AM | 11-19-2020?
Skiers line up to get on a lift at Arapahoe Basin on May 27, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Ski areas in Colorado counties that are listed at level red, or “severe risk,” will be allowed to keep their lifts turning when new restrictions take effect Friday, according to state health officials.

Summit County, where Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge have already opened, is one of 15 counties across Colorado that will move to Level Red on Friday, The Denver Post reported. Copper Mountain, also in Summit County, is scheduled to open in two weeks.

The new dial level announced by Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday “does not affect ski resort on-mountain operations specifically,” according to an email sent Wednesday evening by the Colorado State Joint Information Center.

Ski areas in level red counties can operate their lifts according to their approved plan but must suspend indoor dining.

Facilities “essential for health and safety like restrooms” can remain open, and families also can go indoors for warmth or shelter from inclement weather.

Loveland ski area is in Clear Creek County, which also will be at level red. Winter Park is in Grand County, which is at level orange.

— The Associated Press


State Rep. Meg Froelich tests positive for coronavirus

7:30 AM | 11-19-2020?

State Rep. Meg Froelich, an Englewood Democrat, has tested positive for the coronavirus as the disease runs rampant across Colorado.

Froelich announced her diagnosis on Twitter Wednesday night.

“I am experiencing symptoms,” she said on Twitter. “I haven’t been in the Capitol recently, and I’ll be quarantining for at least 10 days. Please wear a mask, practice social distancing and take this virus seriously. I’ll continue to work remotely.”

The news comes as state lawmakers prepare to return to the legislature later this month for a special legislative session to provide Coloradans with economic relief from the pandemic. 

Also this week U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, and Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, announced they had contracted COVID-19.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Denver Public Schools will end in-person learning on Nov. 30 because of rising COVID-19 cases

4:48 PM | 11-18-2020?
Anahi Zaldana works on a laptop in a classroom in Newlon Elementary School early Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, which is one of 55 Discovery Link sites set up by Denver Public Schools where students are participating in remote learning in this time of the new coronavirus from a school in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, will abandon in-person learning starting on Nov. 30 through the end of 2020 as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spike across Colorado.

The majority of the district’s students are already learning remotely, with the exception being learners in second grade and below.

“Increasing spread of COVID-19 in the Denver community is causing severe staffing shortages that affect our ability to offer in-person learning for early childhood education programs,” Superintendent Susana Cordova wrote in a letter to families. “… This shift to remote learning will allow our teachers and students to work on consistent, uninterrupted class routines and focus their energy on the important work of learning.”

Corodova said she is “committed to returning all elementary students at the start of second semester in January.”

Many school districts across the state have ended in-person learning because of Colorado’s worsening COVID-19 situation.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn tests positive for coronavirus, has symptoms

1:45 PM | 11-18-2020?
Doug Lamborn gives a thumbs-up as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the World Arena in Colorado Springs Thursday, February 20, 2020. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Lamborn is experiencing mild symptoms, according to a news release from his office.

“He has been in contact with the U.S. House attending physician and is following all CDC guidelines and isolating at his home in Colorado Springs,” the release said. “The congressman will continue to work for the district from home and his staff will continue to provide the best of constituent services.”

The release added: “He looks forward to resuming his normal schedule soon.”

Lamborn, 66, was reelected in November to his eighth term.

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, but was asymptomatic.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado’s coronavirus-tracking phone app is struggling to keep up with cases, but a key change should help

12:46 PM | 11-18-2020?

Despite more than a million downloads and activations, the new phone app that can anonymously tell Coloradans if they have been in contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus is off to a slow start.

Sarah Tuneberg, the state Health Department’s special COVID-19 advisor who oversees the app project, said Wednesday that about 3,400 people who have tested positive for the virus have used the app to notify their contacts. But, since the app launched in late October, there have been more than 75,000 new cases of coronavirus reported in Colorado — meaning the app has been used in about 4.5% of cases.

The app uses Bluetooth technology to exchange anonymous “tokens” with other nearby phones running the app. When a person tests positive for coronavirus, they can then use the app to send out a notification to other app users whose phones had recently been near theirs. 

The goal is for the technology to take over some of the laborious and time-consuming contact-tracing work that is so important in getting ahead of the virus.

Tuneberg said one of the early problems with the app was that it still required a human being to contact each person who tested positive in order to give them the special code needed to send out the notifications. For the first couple of weeks the app was in use, health workers — overwhelmed with the latest surge in cases — only gave out 10 to 30 such codes a day.

“We recognized very, very early that the system we hoped was going to work wasn’t,” Tuneberg said.

But now, Tuneberg said the state has automated the process, with everyone who tests positive getting a text message providing them with the needed code.

“People should be getting notifications much, much, much more quickly,” she said.

In recent days, the state has sent out around 5,000 codes per day, Tuneberg said. But, since only about 17% of Coloradans are using the app, most of those texts are being sent to people who do not have the app installed or activated.

Colorado developed the state’s version of the app, known as Exposure Notifications, in conjunction with Google and Apple. 

It is free and can run on almost any phone using Google’s Android operating system, but it must be downloaded from the app store. Apple iPhones already have the app installed on the phone, but it must be activated under the Settings menu. It only works on iPhone models 6s and newer.

For more information on the app, visit www.addyourphone.com.

John Ingold, Staff writer


Two Colorado public defenders refuse to proceed with trial over coronavirus concerns

12:34 PM | 11-18-2020?

Two public defenders in Colorado have refused to proceed with a jury trial in Larimer County over coronavirus safety concerns, prompting a judge to declare a mistrial in one of the few counties in the state where trials are still taking place during the pandemic.

The two public defenders on Tuesday refused to proceed with the jury trial for a man accused of assault and false imprisonment, The Denver Post reported.

As a result, District Judge Stephen Jouard declared a mistrial and ordered the attorneys back to court in December to explain why they should not be held in contempt of court, a charge that carries sanctions up to six months in jail.

Jouard had previously denied the defense’s request for a mistrial, and the attorneys filed an emergency petition with the Colorado Supreme Court challenging the judge’s decision. That petition was denied Tuesday.

The Eighth Judicial District, which includes Larimer and Jackson counties, is one of only four judicial districts in the state with counties in high coronavirus restriction levels that have not suspended jury trials.

Sixteen of 22 judicial districts in the state have suspended all jury trials, and two additional districts have suspended trials in counties where virus cases have surged.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Eighth Judicial District Chief Judge Stephen Howard on Tuesday defended his decision to keep jury trials going and said the court has required masks, social distancing and other safety precautions. The district has successfully completed 24 jury trials since August.

The public defender’s office has disagreed with the chief judge in court filings, taking the stance in one motion that they objected to “going forward with a jury trial in the midst of a global pandemic with trial procedures that risk lives and violate (the defendant’s) fundamental constitutional rights.”

Howard argued that the evidence gets cold, witnesses go away and victims should be able to seek closure. He also said once jury trials are suspended it’s unclear when they will be able to resume.

— The Associated Press


Denver International Airport TSA officer dies after catching coronavirus

9:01 AM | 11-18-2020?
Security lines at Denver International Airport on July 3, 2019. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

A Transportation Security Administration officer who worked at Denver International Airport died Monday after contracting the coronavirus.

Eduard Faktorovich started working for TSA at the airport in April 2018 and “worked exclusively” at DIA’s security checkpoint. Denver7 reports he was 49 years old.

“His last date on duty at the checkpoint was Nov. 2,” the TSA said in a news release. “His colleagues remember him as a kind and respectful person, who always had a smile on his face.  Although Eduard was with TSA for only two and half years, the entire team at DEN is saddened by the loss of one their own.”

The agency says it remains “committed to continuing to take every precaution to help protect our workforce as well as airline travelers.”

Thousands of TSA officers across the U.S. have contracted COVID-19 and a handful have died.

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado releases list of 15 counties that will face new coronavirus restrictions starting Friday

6:54 PM | 11-17-2020?

Colorado health officials on Monday night released a list of 15 counties that will face new coronavirus restrictions — including a ban on indoor dining and all personal gatherings — starting Friday.

The counties are: 

  • Adams
  • Arapahoe
  • Boulder
  • Broomfield
  • Clear Creek
  • Denver
  • Douglas
  • Jefferson
  • La Plata
  • Logan
  • Mesa
  • Morgan
  • Routt
  • Summit
  • Washington

In addition to the restrictions on indoor dining and personal gatherings, alcohol sales at restaurants and bars in those counties must cease at 8 p.m. and gyms can operate only at 10% of their capacity or with 10 people visiting at a time. All indoor events are also outlawed.

The restrictions are part of changes to Colorado’s coronavirus dial system enacted Tuesday by Gov. Jared Polis. The changes are aimed at giving counties another chance to avoid a full-blown lockdown as their COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise. 

“We have great confidence this path will succeed,” Polis said. “It’s not a given.”

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus, is asymptomatic

5:57 PM | 11-17-2020?
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, at a town hall in Aurora on Monday night, Aug. 27, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, has tested positive for the coronavirus. He is asymptomatic.

“I learned today that I have tested positive for COVID-19,” Perlmutter said in a written statement on Tuesday. “As of now, I am asymptomatic and I’m feeling good. I am currently in Washington D.C. and plan to isolate in my apartment while continuing to work and voting remotely.”

Perlmutter, who is 67, won reelection to his eighth term in Congress on Nov. 3.

“This serves as an important reminder that this virus is highly contagious and should be taken seriously,” Perlmutter said. “As we enter the holiday season, I encourage everyone to continue to heed the warnings of no personal gatherings, social distancing, and wearing a mask.”

Several other Colorado politicians, including Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman and state Rep. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, have caught COVID-19.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Sixth Colorado prison inmate dies from apparent coronavirus infection

5:39 PM | 11-17-2020?

A 57-year-old man who had been incarcerated at the Fremont Correctional Facility died Tuesday at a hospital in Pueblo after experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. The man is the sixth Colorado prison inmate to die after apparently contracting the coronavirus.

The state Department of Corrections did not release more information, including the man’s name or whether his diagnosis was confirmed through a positive test, citing medical privacy laws. The man died at Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo, which Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday said had become the first hospital in the state to max out its capacity during the latest surge in cases. Pueblo County is seeing one of the fastest increases in coronavirus cases in the nation.

There are now nearly 1,000 active COVID-19 cases in Colorado prisons. Nearly 2,800 inmates have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.

The largest active prison outbreak in the state is at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, where there are 332 inmates who have tested positive. The facility is in rural Crowley County which, in large part due to the prison outbreak, had the highest per capita rate of new cases of any county in the country on Tuesday, according to The New York Times.

The man who died Tuesday is the second inmate from Fremont Correctional Facility, in Cañon City, to die of apparent COVID-19. A 58-year-old man housed at the same facility died last month. Four men incarcerated at the Sterling Correctional Facility have also died from apparent COVID-19.

John Ingold, Staff writer


Colorado health officials provide coronavirus guidance, promise protective gear for upcoming special legislative session

4:22 PM | 11-17-2020?
Colorado lawmakers meet in the state Senate on Thursday, May 28, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing coronavirus guidance to keep state lawmakers safe at the Capitol ahead of the upcoming special legislative session aimed at providing people with economic relief.

The state says the Colorado General Assembly should “as much as possible” conduct its business remotely. Anyone who enters the building should be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and lawmakers and staff should be tested before and during the session. 

“The state’s Emergency Operations Center can provide masks to be worn by essential personnel (members of the General Assembly, staff, press, and others),” a CDPHE news release said. “Outside visitation to the building should be limited as much as possible.”

Details about when the session will take place are expected to be released by the end of the week. The plan to hold a special session was made public on Monday night.

Colorado lawmakers abruptly ended their regular 2020 legislative session in March because of the pandemic. They returned in May with precautionary measures to finish out the term. 

A big controversy at the Capitol when lawmakers returned was the partisan mask-wearing split — Democrats almost always had face coverings on, while many Republicans rarely wore them. 

“Making sure that we have the safest environment that we possibly can at the Capitol is one of our top priorities,” said House Speaker-designate Alec Garnett, D-Denver.

Garnett said he has spoken with Republican leadership about mask wearing and he is hopeful there will be better compliance during the special session.

Colorado Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Douglas County Republican who is one of the most coronavirus-conscious conservatives in the legislature, said he hopes the slate of special-session legislation is broken up to prevent lawmakers from being in the Capitol for long periods of time.

“That’s probably better than trying to put everything on the table at once,” he said Monday night.

Holbert said he is hopeful there will be mask wearing and social distancing, but he said that’s really up to individual lawmakers.

“Since the president went through that and tested positive (for coronavirus), I think that everybody understands it’s really better for us all to be responsible and try to be COVID conscious,” he said.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado governor unveils new coronavirus restrictions aimed at preventing lockdowns

2:04 PM | 11-17-2020?
Gov. Jared Polis walks into a news conference on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, to announce new coronavirus restrictions in Colorado. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis announced new coronavirus restrictions Tuesday aimed — at least temporarily — at preventing about half of Colorado’s counties from being forced into lockdown as COVID-19 sickens more people and fills more hospital beds each day.

The new mandates are intended to give counties with a worsening COVID-19 situation another chance to improve before returning to an all-out stay-at-home order as the Democrat issued in the spring. 

Coronavirus is running so rampant in many counties — including Denver, Adams and Jefferson — that they should already be locked down under metrics defining the state’s old dial system. Roughly half of the state’s counties Tuesday morning were teetering on the edge of having such bad rates of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that they would meet the criteria for a lockdown.

“We clearly need a more drastic shift in behavior,” Polis said at a news conference at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver where he announced the new restrictions. “Absent intervention, it just keeps getting worse.”

Read more here.

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Chaffee County enacts tighter restrictions after prison outbreak

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Chaffee County is limiting personal gatherings to 10 people from no more than two households starting this week under a plan tightening coronavirus restrictions. 

The county’s COVID-19 cases the last two weeks have reached a rate of 319 per 100,000 people, partly due to an outbreak at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex.

Chaffee County Public and Environmental Health director Andrea Carlstrom told Colorado Public Radio hospitalizations remain low and that the county is “doing everything we can with the resources we have to meet the virus head on.” 

The new restrictions include encouraging people to work from home and limiting places of worship, as well as indoor and outdoor events, to 25% of capacity. The county worked with the state health department to develop the mitigation plan, CPR reported. 

Read the full story from CPR here.

Jen Brown, Staff writer


She is healthy, young and active. But the coronavirus has taken months to recover from.

10:30 AM | 11-17-2020?
Lisa Merck stands in the doorway of her home in Crested Butte on March 14, 2020, where she was quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. Merck, a nurse practitioner, was sick for weeks before she was tested and diagnosed with the disease. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Lisa Merck, a 51-year-old nurse practitioner in Crested Butte, was among the first Coloradans with a confirmed coronavirus infection.

She started feeling ill on Feb. 18 as she returned from a trip to Hawaii. By March 8, she was in the hospital. Months later, she’s still not 100%.

“Even though you think you’re healthy, and you’re immune to it, you’re not immune to it,” she said in an interview with The Colorado Sun. “We don’t know how it’s going to affect each person. Everybody is different.”

Listen to our full interview with her below:

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado lawmakers to return for special session to address coronavirus relief

8:19 PM | 11-16-2020?
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis delivers his second State of the State address in the House chambers on Jan. 9, 2020. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado General Assembly is preparing for a special session that will provide more relief to those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, The Colorado Sun has learned.

“We’ve been having conversations with the governor’s office about how to best provide economic support to families right now,” said Senate Majority leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat “We feel like we can’t just leave people out to dry.”

The move — which is expected to be announced as soon as Tuesday — comes as Gov. Jared Polis pushes a $1.3 billion stimulus package and demands lawmakers take immediate action to provide $105 million in tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses hurt by public health orders on capacity limits, and $100 million in payments to support renters, mortgage holders and child care centers.

Read more here.

— John Frank and Jesse Paul, Staff writers


Football game between Arizona State, University of Colorado shelved due to coronavirus

7:58 AM | 11-16-2020?
Folsom Field at CU Boulder. (Unsplash)

Arizona State’s game against Colorado next Saturday has been canceled, the second straight game the Sun Devils will miss due to positive COVID-19 tests.

The Pac-12 announced cancelation of the game Sunday due to Arizona State not having enough scholarship players available to meet the conference’s 53-player minimum.

Arizona State’s game against California on Saturday was canceled after numerous Sun Devils players and coaches, including head coach Herm Edwards, tested positive for COVID-19.

“The cancellation of another game is very difficult to accept for all of us, but it continues to be the right decision under the circumstances,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said in a statement. “The health, safety and welfare of our student-athletes is our number one priority and will continue to be at the forefront of every decision.”

The Mid-American Conference also had its first cancellation Sunday. Ohio’s game at Miami on Tuesday night was called off because of roster issues related to COVID-19 with the Bobcats.

The MAC started its season the day after Election Day and has no room in its six-week regular-season for makeup dates.

Last week 15 major college football games were postponed, the most of any week during the season. The total number of games involving FBS teams postponed of canceled by coronavirus issues since schedules were set in late August is 65.

A game between Utah and UCLA scheduled for Saturday also was called off on Friday due to the coronavirus, capping the most tumultuous week of COVID-19 disruptions of the college football season. Of 59 games scheduled for Week 11, 15 were called off.

UCLA and Cal quickly worked to play a game against each other, which the Bruins won 34-10 on Sunday in Pasadena.

John Marshall, The Associated Press


A coronavirus survivor’s message to Colorado

7:25 AM | 11-16-2020?
Doug Summerfield, 75, enjoys his first moments back at his Arvada home on Saturday, May 23, 2020, after spending more than a month in hospitals battling the coronavirus. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Doug Summerfield, 75, survived coronavirus in the spring after being placed on a ventilator for about a month. He says the fact that he lived was a miracle.

We caught up with Summerfield, who lives in Arvada with his wife, Mary, about his difficult recovery and his thoughts on the fact that COVID-19 is making a big resurgence now.

“All these things seem like an inconvenience,” he said of coronavirus restrictions. “But believe me, they are not inconveniences compared to trying to recover from this, compared to trying to deal with the financial expense that hits you. You don’t want to get it.”

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado governor, local officials urge companies to switch to remote work

4:56 PM | 11-15-2020?

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis teamed up with local officials on Sunday to urge companies in the state to move to remote work.  

Polis cited Colorado’s rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations at the impetus for his request. 

“Coloradans working remotely when possible will save lives,” Polis said in a written statement. “Every Coloradan needs to step up and do our part to keep our communities healthy and our economy running, and they include working from home whenever possible these next few weeks.”  

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman echoed Polis’ request. 

“Aurora will answer the governor’s request by making sure that every city employee that can work remotely is working remotely and to set an example for other local governments, and for our private sector employers, to do the same,” Coffman, who recently battled his own coronavirus infection, said in a statement.

Polis has already ordered all state employees who can work from home to do so.

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado hospitals say staffing — not bed space — is the real looming shortage in the coronavirus fight

3:48 PM | 11-13-2020?

Even as Gov. Jared Polis on Friday said he would order hospitals to provide more detailed information about their bed capacity to handle the current explosion in coronavirus cases, doctors and hospital representatives said the real number that needs to be considered is staffing.

One quarter of Colorado hospitals are anticipating staffing shortages in the next week, according to state data — compared with 11% that are expecting a shortage of intensive care beds. The staffing shortages mean hospitals could effectively reach their capacity for treating new patients much sooner than bed counts suggest.

“It’s not beds,” Dr. Anuj Mehta, a pulmonologist and emergency medicine specialist at National Jewish Health and Denver Health, said Friday during a meeting of medical experts working with a committee that advises Polis on pandemic response. “We don’t have the nurses or respiratory therapists to staff them.”

Cara Welch, a spokesperson for the Colorado Hospital Association, said hospitals across the state are seeing doctors, nurses and other staff who are either out sick with the virus or who are quarantining as a result of being exposed to someone who has it.

On top of that, the temporary staffing services that hospitals usually rely on to fill gaps in work schedules are all tapped out, both locally and nationwide. Welch said hospitals are being quoted prices four times the normal rate to hire temporary workers. The reason is because the country has never before had case surges so large in so many places.

Typically, states that become coronavirus hotspots can draw from states where things are under control. In the spring and summer, for instance, nurses from Colorado traveled to New York and Arizona to help local health workers in those places.

“We always kind of hoped when the time came, Colorado could benefit from that,” Welch said. “Since it’s all over the country right now, the nurses and the providers in every state are desperately needed there.”

Welch said Colorado hospitals have activated a combined transfer center to optimize use of hospital space across the state. But there’s concern that isn’t enough to head off the looming crisis.

The issue came to a head Friday in a meeting of a medical advisory subgroup to the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee. The committee provides recommendations to Polis about how to respond to the pandemic. It has previously drafted crisis standards of care for hospitals — a document that spells out how to decide who gets life-saving care and who doesn’t if hospitals are overwhelmed with patients.

The standards were written with physical limitations in mind — intensive-care bed space, for instance, or available ventilators. Mehta and others during the meeting talked about the need to update those standards to include what should happen during staffing shortages.

Dr. Darlene Tad-y, an internal medicine specialist who is the hospital association’s vice president of clinical affairs, said policymakers also need to be cognizant of burnout among health care workers and how that could affect staffing long term. The solution to staffing shortages, she said, isn’t just to expect health care workers to individually treat more and more patients.

The urgency among those in the meeting was so great that some called on the state to issue a new stay-at-home order immediately or to move toward activating the crisis standards of care. 

“I think we need to be abundantly clear that we are there,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sankoff, an emergency medicine specialist at Denver Health who said he has been admitting at least 10 new coronavirus patients every shift he has worked in recent days. “I would rather be too early on crisis standards of care than too late. … We’re pretty close to bursting.”

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Colorado governor will order hospitals to report bed capacity, surge plans by the end of next week

2:37 PM | 11-13-2020?
The emergency room entrance to Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, photographed on Oct. 22, 2019. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis on Friday said he will issue an executive order requiring Colorado hospitals to report their bed capacity and patient-surge plans by the end of next week as COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases continue to increase.

“The situation for surge capacity is becoming very real in our state,” he said during a briefing with reporters at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver.

Polis and his health officials have been warning for weeks that Colorado’s hospital capacity could be overwhelmed in December if Coloradans don’t change their behavior. 

The executive order will also require hospitals to report their capacity status to the state twice daily — at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

“A lot of this data, in different formats, we have at different times,” Polis said. “This (executive order) organizes it and requires more real-time updating to better ensure we can serve the people of Colorado who contract COVID or who contract any other type of condition that requires hospitalization.” 

The governor also said that an order requiring hospitals to halt elective procedures to ensure there is enough space and medical supplies for coronavirus patients is “on the table.” Such a mandate was enacted in the spring.

Polis said some hospitals are already pulling back on their elective procedures. 

— Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado Hospital Association activates joint plan to transfer patients during coronavirus spike

1:44 PM | 11-13-2020?

The Colorado Hospital Association announced Friday that it has activated its Combined Hospital Transfer Center to help redistribute coronavirus patients across the state’s hospitals.

The CHTC was formally announced just over a week ago and is aimed at allowing hospitals to transfer patients to another facility if they don’t have enough capacity, or if a patient needs a different level of care.  

The transfer system’s first of three tiers focuses on using hospital data to determine which patients are transferred. The first tier is activated “at the request of partner hospitals” according to CHA documents, while Tier 2 and Tier 3 have specific statistical markers. 

So far, according to the hospital association, the state’s hospitals have not met triggers that would warrant activating higher tiers of the transfer system.

The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have skyrocketed in the past few weeks. As of Friday, there were more than 1,100 people hospitalized with a COVID-19 infection in Colorado, the highest level since the pandemic reached the state in March.

Darlene Tad-y, CHA vice president of clinical affairs, implored Coloradans to wear masks, wash their hands, maintain physical distance and postpone social gatherings until the caseload slows.

“Our hospitals and health care workers are continuing to do their part,” Tad-y said in a written statement. “We need Coloradans to do their part as well – now is the time to change our trajectory and control the virus.”

Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


Colorado Department of Corrections resolves class action coronavirus lawsuit with ACLU

12:06 PM | 11-13-2020?
The Colorado Territorial Prison in Cañon City. (Frank Carey, via Creative Commons)

The ACLU of Colorado in May sued the Colorado Department of Corrections, alleging the agency failed to protect medically vulnerable people in its prisons from contracting coronavirus. 

As of Friday, the organization and the state have come to accord, submitting a consent decree in Denver District Court as part of the resolution. The consent decree will become an enforceable court order if and when the court accepts it.

Included in the document are requirements for access to masks and hygiene supplies for prisoners, prioritizing safe housing for people who are medically vulnerable, improving conditions during pandemic-related lockdowns, and streamlining the parole process. 

Colorado’s prisons have been hotbeds for viral outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic; in the two weeks preceding Friday, 727 prisoners tested positive for COVID-19 and 410 staff members were on leave due to confirmed positive cases or possible exposure.

Five prisoners have died after falling ill with coronavirus-like symptoms.

Another lawsuit from the ACLU of Colorado is still pending. This one, against Gov. Jared Polis, seeks class-action status for state prisoners.

The ACLU alleges that the governor’s lack of effort to reduce the state’s prison population violates the Constitution and endangers hundreds of prisoners, especially those who are most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


It could take up to a year before every Coloradan who wants a coronavirus vaccine can get one

11:06 AM | 11-13-2020?

Most Coloradans who want a coronavirus vaccine could begin receiving one as early as spring but may have to wait up to a year, two state health officials said Thursday, tamping down expectations that promising news about vaccine development could rescue the state from the current surge in cases.

Based on current projections, Colorado is expected to receive enough vaccine next month and in the first few months of 2021 to inoculate no more than a couple million adults. That would leave still millions more in need of a shot — and leave the state short of what is needed to achieve herd immunity to the virus.

The state currently has no plans for a vaccination campaign for children, since none of the vaccines in development has completed extensive testing in kids.

Read the whole story here.

John Ingold, Staff writer


Fifth Colorado prisoner dies after falling ill with COVID-19 symptoms

6:24 PM | 11-12-2020?
An aerial image of Sterling Correctional Facility in northeast Colorado. (Google Images screenshot)

A fifth Colorado prisoner has died after falling ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the state says.

The 71-year-old man died Tuesday at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections. He had been housed at the Sterling Correctional Facility in northeast Colorado. 

Annie Skinner, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, declined to confirm whether the man tested positive for coronavirus, citing privacy concerns. But data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment indicates that his infection was confirmed through a test. 

Three other Sterling Correctional Facility inmates have died after contracting the coronavirus since the pandemic began. Last month, a 58-year-old man imprisoned at the Fremont Correctional Facility died from the disease.

About 2,000 Colorado prisoners have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began. As of Thursday, 528 of them had active infections.

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Jeffco Public Schools, Colorado’s second largest school district, will move to remote learning

6:11 PM | 11-12-2020?

Colorado’s second largest school district announced Thursday evening that it will transition all of its students — with the exception of preschoolers — to remote learning before December. 

Jeffco Public Schools is the latest district to abandon in-person learning as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike across the state. 

Students in grades 6-12 will move to remote learning on Monday. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade will continue learning in person through Nov. 19, at which point they will begin transitioning to fully remote learning by Nov. 30.

Curtis Durham helps his son, Wyatt, 10, with schoolwork at home on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, following the closure of JeffCo Public Schools in response to the new coronavirus. (Dagny Durham, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“Simply put, we’ve now reached the point at which the benefits of in-person learning are outweighed by the disruption caused by abrupt transitions to quarantines and by the risk of COVID-19 exposures within our buildings,” Interim Superintendent Kristopher Schuh wrote in a letter to the district community.

Douglas County School District, which currently has nearly 5,000 students and staff members in quarantine, announced Thursday will move to fully remote learning for all students following Thanksgiving break through the rest of the semester.

“DCSD will continue to evaluate the COVID-19 situation during December to make further decisions about the second semester,” Interim Superintendent Corey Wise wrote in a letter notifying parents of the change.

Finally, Greeley-Evans Weld County School District 6 also announced Thursday it will move fully remote starting on Monday.

“We have closed a third of our schools in recent days, and we continue to quarantine numerous cohorts daily. We are contact tracing more than 3,000 individual students and staff who are currently quarantined, and we have exceeded the capacity to manage these numbers,” Superintendent Dr. Deirdre Pilch wrote in a letter notifying parents.

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Roughly 25 patients hospitalized with coronavirus in Colorado came from out of state

4:40 PM | 11-12-2020?
A graph showing the number of patients currently hospitalized because of COVID-19. (Screenshot)

Only about 25 of the 1,183 people currently hospitalized in Colorado because of COVID-19 were transferred in from another state, state health officials said Thursday.

“Right now, it’s a very small number,” Kevin Klein, director of Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said during a video briefing with reporters. 

Klein said Colorado has partnerships with its surrounding states to share resources in the event of a disaster like the COVID-19 crisis. 

“But right now we’re not seeing either big requests to move people in or big requests to move stuff out of Colorado,” Klein said.

He said it’s not surprising that some patients have been transferred to Colorado from other states given the vast expertise of doctors at Colorado’s hospitals, including those in the UCHealth system.

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado’s top epidemiologist says state’s coronavirus case surge is getting worse, not better

2:00 PM | 11-12-2020?

In a stoic presentation to a group of state health leaders on Thursday, Colorado’s top epidemiologist said the state is seeing a “week-over-week acceleration” in the increase of new cases of COVID-19, each day bringing worse and worse news for the state’s control of the coronavirus.

“To me this is a clear indication of exponential growth in the state,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“We’re not even seeing a hint of a plateau at this point.”

Her comments came during an update to a group of health experts called the GEEERC, for Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee. The group offers guidance to Gov. Jared Polis on how to respond to the pandemic.

Herlihy said the state has reached all-time highs for the number of coronavirus outbreaks currently underway, the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and the number of new cases reported to the state. Over the past week, more than 3,000 new cases have been reported per day.

Cases have grown so rapidly, Herlihy said, they now exceed the state’s capacity to do investigations and contact tracing for all of them. She also said the state’s trajectory continues to exceed earlier projections.

A slide from a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment presentation on Nov. 12, 2020, shows how the state’s increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have exceeded previous modeling forecasts. (Screenshot)

“We’re trending in the wrong direction,” she said.

A month ago, when the GEEERC last met in full, Herlihy said Colorado ranked 31st among all states and the District of Columbia in the incidence rate for new coronavirus cases. At that time, the state’s 7-day average per-capita case rate was 72 new cases per 100,000 people.

Since that time, the case rate in Colorado has more than quintupled to an average of 412 new cases per 100,000 people. Colorado now ranks 17th in the country for highest incidence rate.

“This is a really clear indication of how quickly things have changed in the state,” Herlihy said.

A slide from a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment presentation on Nov. 12, 2020, shows Colorado ranked 17th in the nation for highest incidence rate of new COVID-19 cases. The smaller inset chart shows Colorado ranked 31st just one month prior. (Screenshot)

Herlihy also offered new insight into one of the pandemic’s more hopeful trends. While hospitalizations have reached an all-time high, the percentage of those patients who are being treated in intensive-care units in Colorado has hit a new low — about 19%. Doctors who are members of the GEEERC said this is due to treatment advances such as new medications and greater comfort with treating people with oxygen in regular hospital beds rather than moving them to ICU beds for intubation.

Dr. Michelle Baron, an infectious disease specialist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, said during Thursday’s meeting that most ICU patients today are in such serious condition when they arrive that they are admitted straight to the unit. This is different from the first surge of the virus in spring, when many ICU patients were first admitted to a general ward before their deteriorating conditions forced them to move to the ICU.

A slide from a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment presentation on Nov. 12, 2020, shows that the percentage of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who are in intensive-care units has hit an all-time low. Doctors said advances in medications and changes in how the disease is treated have made the difference. (Screenshot)

But, overall, the worsening situation has state health leaders increasingly urging people to adopt stay-at-home-like behavior, even if Polis has signaled he does not want to issue a new stay-at-home order.

“For the rest of November,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the state health department, “we’re recommending people only interact with their own households.”

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Inmates at El Paso County jail, site of major coronavirus outbreak, only given masks last week

10:58 AM | 11-12-2020?

Inmates at Colorado’s El Paso County jail were not routinely given masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus until last week when it turned into the site of the state’s second-largest outbreak, a jail spokesperson said.

The jail in Colorado Springs, which has has held 1,200 detainees on average daily lately, previously only gave inmates masks if they were moving around the facility, going to to court or if recommended by medical staff, El Paso Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. Deborah Mynatt told The Denver Post.

The jail initially did not issue masks to all inmates because there was a limited supply of face coverings that suitable for detention facilities. Mynatt said she did not know why suitable masks were not procured later.

“I’m not sure on who made the decision or why, but I know that the entire time we were taking recommendations from public health,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises detention facilities to provide all inmates with masks at no cost and to frequently wash them.

Officials first reported the jail outbreak on Oct. 26 when eight inmates who were asymptomatic tested positive for COVID-19.

The El Paso County jail. (Handout)

According to the sheriff’s office, 90 jail workers and 863 inmates have tested positive since the pandemic began, all but 14 of them since mid-October.

The number of inmates with the disease who were considered infectious dropped to 148 on Wednesday because some inmates have left the jail and others are past the 10-day window when they are able to spread the disease.

Colorado’s largest coronavirus outbreak is at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where there have been 1,766 cases.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.

For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The Associated Press


25 Colorado counties are teetering on the edge of lockdown

9:58 AM | 11-12-2020?
A screenshot of Colorado’s current county-by-county status.

As of Thursday morning, 25 of Colorado’s 64 counties are on the edge of being locked down by state health officials because of rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. 

Those 25 counties are under Gov. Jared Polis’ orange — or “high-risk” – level on the “safer-at-home” scale, one level above being forced to enact a stay-at-home order.

The counties at level orange are: 

  • Sedgwick
  • Phillips
  • Logan
  • Morgan
  • Washington
  • Adams
  • Arapahoe
  • Douglas
  • Jefferson
  • Denver
  • Broomfield
  • Boulder
  • Gilpin
  • Clear Creek
  • Summit
  • Routt
  • Mesa
  • San Miguel
  • La Plata
  • El Paso
  • Elbert
  • Crowley
  • Otero
  • Prowers
  • Kit Carson

“We are rapidly catching up to the uncontrolled levels of disease seen in the rest of Colorado and we are at risk of serious consequences for our hospitals,” Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, said in a written statement on Tuesday announcing that La Plata County was moving to the orange level. “ We know everyone is tired of this pandemic, and we are so thankful of the sacrifices everyone has made in their workplaces and social lives. We must ask all community members to once again come together and adopt good public health practices to keep our families and neighbors safe.”

Only two counties remain in the state’s “protect-our-neighbors” status, the highest level a county can achieve. Those are Moffat and Rio Blanco counties in the northwest corner of Colorado. 

Moffat County, however, is struggling to maintain that status because of rising cases and an increased test positivity rate that would drop it down a level. 

You can see where your county is on the state’s scale here.

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado has identified 247 coronavirus outbreaks already this month

6:47 PM | 11-11-2020?
A screenshot of Colorado’s outbreak tracker. Notice the increase in October and November.

Colorado has identified at least 247 coronavirus outbreaks that began November, just 11 days into the month, according to data released by the state on Wednesday.

In all of October, Colorado had 510 outbreaks — by far the greatest number since the pandemic began. November is on pace to far exceed last month’s tally.

An outbreak is defined by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as two people testing positive for COVID-19 in a span of two weeks.

The largest share of the outbreaks this month — 80 of them, or 32% — have been at camps, schools and childcare facilities. The second largest share — 33 or 13.1% — have been at manufacturing facilities and construction sites. 

Businesses on the state’s active outbreak list include Argonaut Wine and Liquor in Denver, cannabis company Charlotte’s Web Inc., three Costco stores, the Denver Broncos, four King Soopers locations, an Orange Theory Fitness location and four Target stores. 

Other organizations on the list are Red Rocks Country Club, Pikes Peak Christian Church and Pitkin County Public Works. 

Jesse Paul and Jen Brown, staff writers


Report: Colorado health agency deleted emails on pandemic

11:33 AM | 11-11-2020?
Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s state epidemiologist, speaks to reporters at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver on Monday, April 20, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has routinely deleted emails sent and received by officials responding to the coronavirus pandemic even though the state archives has asked that they be saved, a newspaper has found.

The Denver Post reported that it discovered that emails sent and received by state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy were deleted after the newspaper requested some documents that are considered public records.

The department said it would provide some records, including emails. But it said emails “from May would have already been auto-deleted unless otherwise preserved, or they were previously deleted by Dr. Herlihy as part of a normal business process,” said Monica Wilkerson, the department’s records and legal services liaison.

As of last year, the department deleted most employee emails after 90 days. The policy mirrors similar practices by the state government, including the governor’s office.

Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Executive Director Jeff Roberts said it is important to keep records so that journalists can report on a crisis impacting the health and safety of the state’s residents.

“I’m disappointed because we asked for this,” Roberts said. “Just because they may not think the messages are important to keep, those are government records and they are the public’s records.”

State officials have argued they are following procedure and the law.

“To be clear, we haven’t changed our record-retention policy during the pandemic; we are, of course, preserving what the law requires us to preserve,” said Ann Hause, director of the agency’s office of legal and regulatory compliance.

The Colorado State Archives posted a notice online in June asking various agencies to “keep all records related to COVID-19.”

The state Department of Public Health and Environment said it is following the state archives’ guidelines.

“The State Archives Office recommends we save correspondence showing significant new policies or work practices in place during the pandemic,” the department said. “Correspondence includes letters, memos and emails.”

The Colorado State Archives did not immediately respond to questions Tuesday.

More than 60 news organizations, including The Post, sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis in April asking for transparency in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“These primary records will become particularly important in the future, as journalists and social science researchers attempt to reconstruct this chaotic period to determine what we can learn from the response,” the letter read.

Polis’ Press Secretary Conor Cahill said in response that Polis “believes in transparency in government,” and that his office saves the final versions of contracts, orders, press releases and other documents to retain.

The Post’s discovery follows a report by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition that found state agencies, cities and other government entities have charged large amounts of money to retrieve requested public records.

The Associated Press


As contact-tracing capacity becomes strained, Colorado health officials are looking to automate notifications

11:04 AM | 11-11-2020?
Exposure Notifications Express. (Screenshot)

More than 800,000 people in Colorado have now enabled a smartphone app that notifies them if they’ve potentially been exposed to the coronavirus.

The app allows phones that are near one another to exchange non-identifying bits of information. If a person tests positive for the coronavirus, they can then use the app to anonymously notify everyone whose phone had recently been near theirs of the possible exposure.

State health officials have touted the app as a way to expand their ability to hunt down new infections and get people isolated before they can spread the virus to others. But it comes with one increasingly significant bottleneck: A health worker has to contact each person who tests positive and text them a link that allows them to use the app to notify others. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says this is a key security feature of the app — it prevents pranksters from sending out exposure notifications without having received a verified positive test.

But, with contact-tracing capacity across the state under strain as the number of new cases explodes, that has created a drag on the app’s usefulness. So CDPHE says it is testing out an automated approach.

In response to emailed questions from The Sun, the agency says it is “piloting” a system where the state’s electronic communicable disease reporting system will automatically text out the link when a positive test is reported and a mobile phone number is associated with the record. That would eliminate the need for a human being to get in touch with the infected person before the exposure notifications could go out.

The state says it is also working to bring on more people who can do the test-result calls and handle exposure notification requests.

The exposure notifications app works on both iPhones and phones running Google’s Android operating system. Android must download the Exposures Notifications app. iPhones have the app automatically installed — it just has to be enabled under the Settings menu. But it doesn’t currently work on iPhones older than the 6s.

For more information, go to www.addyourphone.com.

— John Ingold, Staff writer


Boulder Valley School District, Aurora Public Schools shift to remote learning

8:42 AM | 11-11-2020?
MIles Love, 12, works on an online physical science problem in a Google chat room with one of his Manhattan Middle School classmates as his brother, Foster, 7, who is in first grade at Pioneer Elementary School, takes a break from his studies on March 31, 2020, the first week that the Boulder Valley School District used all-online learning to teach its students. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)

Two more Colorado school districts will abandon in-person learning for the rest of this year as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the state.

Boulder Valley School District and Aurora Public Schools announced their decisions on Tuesday, citing an inability to stop outbreaks and keep in-person classes running smoothly.

Aurora was mostly offering online-only classes, but preschool and kindergarten students who were receiving in-person instruction will move to remote learning after Thanksgiving for the rest of the year, Chalkbeat Colorado reports. Special needs students and immigrant learners will also shift to remote classes at that time after being allowed back in school.

“While we know that our students and staff can thrive with more in-person learning, the sustained community spread interferes with our ability to maintain the full range of our mitigation measures across all of our grades,” Superintendent Rico Munn wrote in a letter to the district community.

Boulder Valley School District will move all of its schools to remote learning starting Nov. 17 for at least the rest of 2020. The next semester begins on Jan. 5.

“While my team and I remain firmly committed to providing in-person learning opportunities whenever it is safe to do so – it has become abundantly clear that we can no longer handle the situation on a school-by-school basis,” Superintendent Rob Anderson wrote in a letter to the district community. “Unfortunately, the contact tracing team has been overrun with cases and with growing quarantines, we simply do not have enough school or district staff to fill all the gaps.”

Jesse Paul, Staff writer


Colorado’s coronavirus deaths haven’t yet spiked as cases have. Health leaders say that’s not a reason for complacency.

?

As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations reach record heights in Colorado, there is one metric so far resisting the same kind of upward pull.

Deaths among people infected with COVID-19 have begun to rise again in recent weeks, but they are so far nowhere near the peaks of earlier this year. Data from the state Health Department shows that currently about 10 people infected with the virus are dying every day in Colorado. That’s up from three or four deaths a day at the end of summer, but it is far below the 30 or more people who died a day during the worst of the state’s spring coronavirus surge.

But state health leaders also caution that the improved chances of surviving a coronavirus infection are not reason to take the virus less seriously or to be less alarmed by the rising number of cases in Colorado

Read the entire story here.

John Ingold, Staff writer


Coronavirus outbreak at El Paso County jail infects 859 inmates, 66 workers

8:12 AM | 11-11-2020?

COLORADO SPRINGS — The El Paso County jail in Colorado has reported 859 of the 1,246 inmates in custody Sunday tested positive for COVID-19 along with 66 employees, authorities said.

The El Paso County sheriff’s office said two of the employees were hospitalized over the weekend, The Gazette reported.

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Deborah Mynatt did not disclose the status of the two employees who were hospitalized or if they were civilian employees or deputies, citing privacy concerns.

Officials first reported the outbreak on Oct. 26 when eight inmates who were asymptomatic tested positive for COVID-19. Mynatt compared the outbreak to a “wildfire” and said officials are trying to control the virus from spreading more.

The El Paso County jail. (Handout)

Sheriff’s office officials reported that 927 inmates and 78 staff members at the jail have tested positive overall since the pandemic began in March. Mynatt said 1,755 tests were administered to inmates and 782 were administered to employees since Monday, including people who have had more than one test.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The Associated Press


Local officials to Gov. Jared Polis: Enact tougher coronavirus measures

8:09 AM | 11-11-2020?
Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s local public health directors have implored Gov. Jared Polis to issue tougher measures to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus, including lockdowns in individual counties as needed.

The state’s metro public health directors and the president of the Colorado Association of Public Health Directors made the appeal in a Nov. 5 letter to Polis and the state health department that was obtained by Colorado Public Radio news.

“We are at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said. “Cases are increasing at an alarming rate. Contract tracing and investigation capacity is tapped. Hospitalization rates are at an all-time high since the pandemic began and are projected to exceed capacity by year’s end.”

Polis’ administration has adopted a color-coded scheme that increases social distancing and other restrictions as case counts mount or lessen in individual counties. Colorado Public Radio reported Tuesday that the local directors asked the governor to better enforce those measures and require counties to impose “stay at home” measures as needed.

Polis ordered a statewide lockdown in the spring as the pandemic spread in Colorado. He has resisted doing so again, in part because of the significant damage to businesses and workers who lose jobs. He has repeatedly urged pandemic-weary residents to avoid social gatherings, wear masks and practice other behaviors to stem virus transmission.

The governor prefers to let individual counties make the best choices for their residents but won’t hesitate to take statewide action “if there comes a time we could lose lives due to a lack of medical capacity,” his press secretary, Conor Cahill, told Colorado Public Radio.

MORE: Why another statewide lockdown is unlikely, even as Colorado’s coronavirus situation worsens each day

Thirteen of Colorado’s 64 counties are under an “orange” level of restrictions, and all of them exceed Colorado’s threshold for the rate of new cases needed to move to a “red level” lockdown, according to state data. Factors in that threshold include are a two-week cumulative incidence rate of 350 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and the number of hospitalizations.

At least 1,174 people were hospitalized on Monday with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, according to the state health department. The high of 1,277 patients was set in April. The seven-day average percentage of positive tests has reached nearly 11.5%, compared with 3.7% a month ago.

While local authorities can impose stay-at-home orders, “we think that that authority is more effective if it comes from the chief elected official in the state,” Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Public Health, told Colorado Public Radio. His department serves more than 1.5 million people in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

Without a new stimulus package from Congress, the decision whether to impose a lockdown is even more difficult, especially if it’s made by a non-elected local health official, Douglas said.

“I think all of my colleagues are getting weary of being the target of criticism, death threats, hostile comments,” Douglas said, adding that “nobody who makes this decision, by the way, is going to be popular. The governor’s not going to be popular if he makes it. We’re not going to be popular if we make it.”

COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

Colorado has had more than 134,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. More than 2,100 residents have died, according to the state health department.

The Associated Press


Colorado will require more testing at nursing homes as coronavirus becomes more prevalent

7:11 PM | 11-10-2020?
Emergency personnel from South Metro Fire Rescue transfer a patient into an ambulance at Libby Bortz Assisted Living Center in Littleton on Friday, April 3, 2020. Several residents there died from coronavirus. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado health officials Tuesday night announced new testing requirements for nursing homes as the coronavirus becomes more prevalent in the state

Hundreds of nursing home residents died after COVID-19 first reached Colorado in March. The new mandates appear aimed at preventing a repeat of those staggering fatalities. 

The new requirements, which go into effect Nov. 20 and were placed in an existing public health order, state:

  • Facilities must test all staff weekly.
  • Residents must be tested weekly if they have left facilities to interact with people who live elsewhere in the past 14 days. 
  • A facility that reaches a two-week positivity rate of 10% or greater must increase its testing to twice weekly until the rate returns to less than 10% for two consecutive weeks.
  • Facilities must test all residents and staff if there is a single COVID-19 case, regardless of whether the infected person has symptoms.

“Facilities may choose to expand testing beyond these minimum requirements, such as testing all residents on a weekly basis,” the order says.

Assisted-living residences, group homes and intermediate-care facilities also must adhere to the new testing requirements.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says it will provide testing supplies to the facilities. 

“Expanded testing at long-term care facilities will further protect many of the Coloradans most at risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of CDPHE, said in a written statement. 

Jesse Paul, staff writer


Douglas County tells Tri-County Health it won’t withdraw until at least 2023

3:12 PM | 11-10-2020?
Outside Tri-County Health Department’s administrative office at 6162 S. Willow Drive in Greenwood Village. The agency serves more than 1.5 million people in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. (Ellis Arnold, Colorado Community Media)

In July, the three-member Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted to withdraw from the Tri-County Health Department — which oversees public health in Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties — after 50 years of partnership.

As of Tuesday, that withdrawal won’t happen until at least 2023 — if at all.

In a letter sent to the health department Tuesday, Douglas County Attorney Lance Ingalls thanked Tri-County for “efforts to seek a mutual resolution” on the differences between the county and its health authority. The update comes after a Nov. 6 Tri-County board meeting, during which the board voted to give individual counties more input for public health orders. 

The letter, first reported by Colorado Community Media, pushed back the potential withdrawal deadline until at least December 31, 2022. Previously the county was slated to withdraw from Tri-County by July 2021.

The county and health department have been at odds since the beginning of the pandemic. Republican leaders in Douglas County spoke out against the stay-at-home order that Tri-County implemented in March.

When the health department enacted a mask mandate in July, the county’s board of commissioners announced their intent to break up their partnership with Tri-County the next day. It wasn’t clear, however, how difficult it would be for Douglas County to go it on their own. 

MORE: Douglas County to opt out of mask mandate, moves to leave Tri-County Health Department

Before Tuesday’s announcement, progress towards creating a Douglas County-specific health department remained unclear.

Dr. John M. Douglas, who leads Tri-County Health Department, welcomed the withdrawal news.

“We appreciate this action, which gives TCHD the opportunity to work with them, as well as Arapahoe and Adams counties, on each of their unique public health needs,” he said in a written statement. “This is a positive step forward in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and allows TCHD to be more strategic in working with our three counties.”

Lucy Haggard, Staff writer


El Paso County says it is dealing with so many cases that it may not be able to contact trace them all

12:50 PM | 11-10-2020?
Julianna Sandoval, 24, pauses for a COVID-19 nasal swab test from Dr. Sarah Rowan from Denver Health Medical Center. Rowan and other medical staff administered a free drive-up COVID-19 testing in the parking lot of Abraham Lincoln High School on November 7, 2020. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

El Paso County Public Health is warning that it is dealing with so many coronavirus cases that it may not be able to complete contract tracing for them all.

“Individuals who are infectious with COVID-19 are required to isolate,” the health department said on a bulletin posted to its website. “El Paso County Public Health recommends that they reach out to their close contacts.”

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s top epidemiologist, told The Colorado Sun last week that the state’s rising case numbers are making contact tracing more difficult. Public health officials were aiming to be able to trace about 500 cases a day in Colorado. There has been an average of more than 3,000 a day for a week.

“There certainly is strain on our public health systems,” Herlihy said. “There’s strain on our contact-tracing systems.”

The state is hoping that the new Exposure Notifications Express smartphone system can take some of the burden off of people-powered, time-intensive contact tracing by doing their work automatically. More than 500,000 people have already downloaded it in the state.

Colorado also announced on Monday that it is bringing on more AmeriCorps members to help boost the state’s contact-tracing ability.

Jesse Paul, staff writer

Adams 12 school district to transition online by start of next week

11:58 AM | 11-10-2020?
Parents and students pick up backpacks filled with school supplies at the central administration offices of Adams 12 school district in Thornton, August 21, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

After attempting to bring students back for at least some in-person classes this fall, the Adams 12 Five Star school district will switch all of their students to online learning by Monday, Nov. 16.

Superintendent Chris Gdowski noted in Monday’s announcement that over 200 students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to rolling quarantines and online class for more than 3,300 students and 600 staff members. Four elementary schools transitioned online over the past weekend alone.

“Simply put, we’ve now reached the point at which the benefits of in-person learning for our youngest students are outweighed by the disruption caused by abrupt transitions to quarantines and by the risk of COVID exposures within our schools,” Gdowski wrote.

If schools need to go under quarantine, they may transition online sooner. Students who have been quarantined will have the opportunity to pick up items left at school either before or right after Thanksgiving break.

Most students will remain online from Thanksgiving break until the end of the term. Students with special needs, advanced academic needs or those who are learning English may be allowed to come back to in-person learning, but that decision will not be made until Thanksgiving break or later.

The district decided in October to move learning online for students in grades 6 through 12. Its neighboring districts, Aurora Public Schools and Denver Public Schools, have also kept high schoolers learning remotely for the fall, with DPS also keeping middle schoolers remote.

Lucy Haggard, staff writer


With coronavirus cases rising, is Colorado’s ski season at risk?

10:19 AM | 11-10-2020?
A snowboarder wearing a medical mask heads down a slope at Arapahoe Basin on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis says he isn’t worried about Colorado’s ski season being at risk as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to surge in the state.

“Skiing itself and boarding is a lower-risk activity,” Polis said in an interview Friday with The Colorado Sun. “You’re outdoors, you’re on a slope, you’re not near anybody for very long, if at all. You’re frequently masked anyways, even regardless of the pandemic.”

To put it bluntly, Polis said: “The danger is not on the slope. The biggest danger on the slope remains slamming into a tree.”

Polis said the real risk of COVID-19 transmission in resort towns is at bars, but he feels confident those communities are taking coronavirus seriously and implementing restrictions aimed at ensuring the winter tourism season isn’t forced to end early.

MORE: Colorado is trying to figure out what to do when ski country visitors catch coronavirus

“We’ve been pushing outdoors, as you know, all summer. That doesn’t change in winter. Outdoors is better,” Polis said. “It’s one of those things where, if you want to be safe, just go home or go to your hotel if you are done skiing or boarding for the day.”

Three Colorado ski areas are now open — Arapahoe Basin, Keystone Resort and Wolf Creek Ski Area — and others are expected to start operations in the coming days and weeks.

Listen to our full interview with Polis and Dr. Rachel Herlihy, Colorado’s top epidemiologist, here.

Jesse Paul, staff writer


After staving off COVID-19 for months, Western Colorado University switches to online classes

10:17 AM | 11-10-2020?
Cars line up during drive up testing for COVID-19 in Gunnison on March 20, 2020. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

For most of the fall semester, Western Colorado University was one of the most successful campuses in the state when it came to controlling the coronavirus pandemic. But in the 10 days before Friday, the campus saw 30 cases among its faculty, staff and roughly 2,700 students. Before that, the campus had seen a total of 11 cases all semester.

After months of successful hybrid learning for the majority of their courses, Western switched to online-only classes on Monday. 

The university’s president, Greg Salsbury, announced the changes in an email to the campus community Sunday afternoon, citing high case numbers in tests over the weekend. 

The campus had already planned to shift classes online following Thanksgiving break, which is still two weeks away. 

MORE: Colorado colleges want to offer more in-person classes this spring. Here’s what they learned from a tough fall.

Western is in Gunnison County, which was one of the first to impose restrictions on its residents as the pandemic hit in March. It was successful in maintaining low case numbers for most of the summer. The county even received the state’s protect-our-neighbors variance, which allows for larger gatherings and more normal business operations. 

Recently, Gunnison County, like much of the state, has also seen a rise in case counts, with about 80% attributed to the university. Though it still held protect-our-neighbors status Tuesday, the county is undergoing mitigation efforts to retain that variance. In an update Monday, county officials wrote: “The message is simple, we all need to step up at the individual level to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

Lucy Haggard, staff writer