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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

COVID-19 Updates: Larimer, Weld Counties Moving To Level Red Restrictions

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Matt Bloom
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KUNC

Nov. 20, 2020 Updates

Larimer County Moving To Level Red On Wednesday

Effective at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24, Larimer County will move to Level Red on Colorado's COVID-19 dial — skipping a level from its current status of Level Yellow.

"We have more testing and knowledge than we did in April but today transmission is greater, cases are higher, and our hospitals are really feeling the impact," Larimer County public health director Tom Gonzales said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

As of Friday, Larimer County has reported a COVID-19 case incidence rate of 819 per 100,000 residents, with a positivity rate of 12.1%.

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Weld County Moving To Level Red On Sunday

Starting Sunday, Nov. 22, Weld County will join 15 other counties in Colorado in moving to Level Red: Severe Risk on the state's COVID-19 restriction dial.

The county recorded about 3,500 new cases in the last two weeks and more than 20% of COVID tests are currently coming back positive. The new level means a ban on personal gatherings, indoor dining at restaurants and lower capacity limits in gyms, grocery stores and places of worship.

In a statement, Weld County commissioners said they will continue to leave it up to residents and business owners to take individual responsibility to protect themselves, and that they will not enforce a rule requiring a reduction of attendees in places of worship, or one demanding restaurants close indoor dining and any rule forcing a business to shut down or impede their ability to operate.

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Special Session Date Set

Gov. Jared Polis has set a date for the special legislative session he is calling to tackle coronavirus relief funding. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on Nov. 30 to consider a stimulus package worth more than two hundred million dollars.

Polis says he wants the session to focus on seven topics, including aid for small businesses and expanding broadband access during the pandemic.

"Extraordinary times call for extraordinary actions. I'll be asking the general assembly to take up critical legislation that will help Colorado families and Colorado small business survive these challenging winter months ahead," he said.

The state health department is recommending lawmakers and staff get tested for COVID-19 before returning to the Capitol.

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Nursing Home Outbreaks

115 nursing homes and assisted living centers across Colorado are currently grappling with coronavirus outbreaks, as COVID-19 infections continue to impact the most vulnerable in the state: older people and those with compromised health conditions.

Staff at nursing homes and assisted living centers are taking precautions like wearing masks — and gowns, when necessary — says Doug Farmer, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Care Association. But those workers are at risk, too.

“So when they go back into the community they take every precaution to be safe but if you’re running across other people who aren’t taking those precautions, you’re not as safe,” said Farmer.

Though staffers are routinely checked for the virus, some can carry it without showing any symptoms, he said.

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Nov. 19, 2020 Updates

Ski Resorts To Remain Open Under New Restrictions

Public health officials are scrambling to interpret Colorado’s new Level Red coronavirus restrictions. In Summit County, public health director Amy Wineland says they will affect the county’s short-term rentals and ski areas.

"Lodging right now as it stands will be held to that one household only standard. That includes only people who are currently living together. It doesn't mean that they're all part of a family coming from all across the nation," she said.

Wineland says ski areas, like Breckenridge, will be allowed to operate when new restrictions take effect. But the county is looking at more ways to reduce crowd sizes, including tightening capacity limits on the slopes.
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Food Banks See Increased Demand

Data from across the country shows the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to higher rates of food insecurity. And that has led to increased demand from food banks including those in Northern Colorado.

Larimer County Food Bank CEO Amy Pezzani says they’ve had to cut operating hours, but they're serving more people.

“Right now during COVID, during this time of year, the need is almost greater than I’ve ever seen it,” Pezzani said.

She says their greatest need right now are volunteers and monetary donations. In response to COVID-19, Weld and Larimer County Food banks have both switched to drive-through only food distribution.
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Restaurant Association Responds To New Restrictions

Indoor dining at restaurants will be banned in at least 15 Colorado counties starting Friday under the new Level Red COVID-19 restrictions announced by the state. Under the new restrictions, outdoor dining will still be allowed — but only for groups from a single household.

Sonia Riggs, head of the Colorado Restaurant Association, says if indoor dining is shut down, the industry will see closures unless more federal aid comes through.

“Almost 25% said within a month, they would consider closing permanently," Riggs said. “And 59% said in less than three months they would consider closing permanently.”

Denver, Boulder, Broomfield, and Logan counties are among those facing the tighter Level Red restrictions, which will also affect gyms, offices, houses of worship and schools.

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Nov. 18, 2020 Updates

Hospitals Nearing ICU Capacity

Colorado hospitals are running out of ICU beds as coronavirus cases surge. Statewide, more than 1,400 people are currently hospitalized. The Craig Press in Moffat County reports their small facility is almost out of room. And a hospital in Pueblo transferred some patients to Colorado Springs this week after reaching capacity.

Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander, says there are other challenges too.

"They are seeing more staff members sick with COVID in the last month than they’ve seen in the totality of this pandemic. This is creating serious staffing problems for our hospitals and exacerbating the stress," he said.

Bookman says the state is working to help by sending temporary staff members to hospitals. Gov. Jared Polis is also requiring facilities to submit new plans on ways to increase their ICU capacity by this Friday.

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State Updates COVID-19 Alert App

The state health department has tweaked its COVID-19 exposure app to more quickly alert smartphone users they may have been exposed to the virus.

The state originally relied on local public health departments to initiate the notifications after someone tested positive. But Sara Tuneberg, who helped develop the app, says cases were rising so rapidly, it became overwhelming and only forty alerts were going out each day.

"In addition to automating the code distribution for exposure notification, those text messages will also include messages on how to isolate, how to conduct their own exposure notifications," Tuneberg said.

Tuneberg says the changes allow the state to now send out thousands of alerts each day. She added about thirty four hundred people have used the system to anonymously inform others of possible exposure to the virus.

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Colorado Counties Moving To Level Red

15 Colorado counties will move to a new level on the state’s coronavirus restriction dial: "Level Red: Severe Risk." This change goes into effect on Friday.

  • Counties moving to Level Red: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson, La Plata, Logan, Mesa, Morgan, Routt, Summit, Washington
  • Counties moving to Level Orange: Costilla, Custer, Lake, Montezuma, Pitkin, San Juan
  • Counties moving to Level Yellow: Las Animas, Gunnison

Under the new level, indoor dining at restaurants will be closed, last call for alcohol sales will move from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. and gym capacity will be cut from 25% down to 10%. In addition, no personal gatherings are allowed under this level. Level Red is the second most restrictive on the state’s new dial — the most restrictive is Level Purple: Extreme Risk, which would be a complete lockdown.

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Nov. 17, 2020 Updates

State Adds New Level To COVID-19 Dial

The state has created a new level on its cororanvirus restriction dial as a last resort to help several counties avoid stay-at-home orders. The new Level Red that several counties are moving to will end indoor dining, alcohol sales after 8 p.m. and limit capacity at gyms.

"We clearly need a more drastic shift in behavior to further slow the transmission of the virus and prevent this exponential growth curve from overwhelming our ability to take care of people who are sick," Gov. Polis said.

The governor would not be specific, but about 10 to 15 counties are expected to adopt the new restrictions which take effect Friday. Polis is also continuing to avoid issuing a new statewide stay-at-home order in part because of the economic impact it would have.

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Polis Calls Special Session For Coronavirus Relief

Governor Jared Polis is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol for a rare special session to consider a coronavirus relief package.

Polis wants lawmakers to quickly approve hundreds of millions of dollars of spending on housing assistance, child care and tax relief for restaurants and other small businesses. Democratic House Majority Leader Alec Garnett says he supports the governor bringing them back before their regular session, which starts in January.

"Frankly, January will be too late for too many small businesses, bars restaurants, and too many residents facing foreclosure. We just can’t wait for Congress to act," Garnett said.

The stimulus would from the state's general as well as sales tax breaks. At least 18 other states have already called special sessions this year to deal with fallout from the pandemic. The date of Colorado’s special session has not been set. Polis says he will have more details by the end of the week.

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Vaccine Update

Two COVID-19 vaccines might be nearing the finish line, but scientists say it's critical that enough people volunteer to help finish studying other candidates. Moderna and Pfizer recently announced preliminary results showing their vaccines appear to be strongly effective. More vaccine types will be needed to meet global demand. And different types may work better in different people, something only testing can tell.

Colorado’s current spike in COVID-19 cases is helping to speed up vaccine development, because more cases means more data.

Vaccine trials rely on a certain number of participants getting sick. That’s how they determine if people who received a vaccine are better protected vs. someone who got a placebo.

Dr. Thomas Campbell is with the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. He says the Moderna study he’s working on only needed four months to see enough cases.

"Both studies got to that level very quickly. And that’s because, unfortunately, there’s a lot of it going around," he said.

Moderna announced this week its vaccine was almost 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, in preliminary studies. So far, no vaccine has gotten emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration for distribution. That’s expected to happen sometime this month.
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COVID-19 Diagnosis Linked To Subsequent Mental Illness

People who get sick with COVID-19 are more likely to go on to develop a mental illness, according to a new analysis of 62,000 coronavirus cases.

Researchers found that one in five people who got the virus received a psychiatric diagnosis not long after — usually for anxiety, insomnia or even dementia.

Dr. Kimberly Nordstrom is an emergency psychiatrist at University of Colorado Anschutz. She reviewed the findings which were published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal.

"It took thoughts that we had as a medical community and actually just validated what we were seeing and thinking," she said.

Nordstrom notes that this has been an extremely challenging year even for those who haven’t gotten the coronavirus. A survey by the Colorado Health Foundation found Coloradans have become far more worried about money, housing and food insecurity this year.

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Nov. 16, 2020 Updates

Public Health Departments Under Pressure

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s putting a strain on local public health officials. That’s according to Theresa Anselmo, executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials. She told KUNC's Colorado Edition that 12 local public health officials have either resigned or been terminated during the pandemic.

“Out of 53 agencies, that’s a lot of leadership and institutional knowledge lost, that is pretty devastating during a pandemic,” Anselmo said.

Anselmo attributes part of the strain to the fact that most health officials have not had a break since things began in March, including over the summer, when the state saw a spike in COVID-19 cases.

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Larimer County Restaurants, Bars Required To Collect Patron Information

Larimer County restaurants and bars will now have to collect names and contact information from all in-person patrons. The new regulation from the county's Department of Health and Environment will aid with contact tracing regarding COVID-19. It’s something the county already requires for events such as recreational sports, but spokesperson Katie O’Donnell says the effort is really more about avoiding additional restrictions and keeping businesses open.

“We haven’t collected any of that data for our restaurants and bars,” O'Donnell said. “So while we want to sit here and tell the state, that’s not a risk level for us and we do not want to put blanket restrictions on our bars and restaurants, they’re saying prove it to me. And I can’t.”

After a recent spike in cases, Larimer County currently sits at Safer at Home Level Yellow of Colorado’s dial framework.

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