Archived Live Blog: Coronavirus In Colorado, Week Of March 30
Colorado News Media Feels Economic Pain of Coronavirus
Sunday, 4/5/2020 at 12:02 p.m.
COVID-19 is causing money troubles for news media across the country. And now it's starting to hit Colorado.
The Denver Post has laid off four reporters and nine other staff, according to Post reporter Elise Schmelzer. Gannet-owned El Paso Times and The Coloradoan announced they would begin furloughs of staff this week. In an editorial, Coloradoan editor Eric Larsen said the furloughs would be for five days every month and would be “equivalent to a 25% pay cut” for most of his journalists each month.
Many of these news organizations are reaffirming their commitment to cover the epidemic despite the losses. As Pilot & Today publisher Logan Molen put it, “The trickle-down effect has been more like an avalanche, as advertising revenue tumbles in proportion to a lack of shoppers and open businesses.”
The Mountain West News Bureau reported that “the COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the cracks and fissures in a centuries-old business model,” spurring some publications to go non-profit to get around the reliance on ad revenue.
Across the state, more than 60,000 unemployment claims were filed in March.
Denver Area Schools Closed For Remainder Of School Year
Friday, 4/3/2020 at 3:51 p.m.
14 school districts in the Denver metro area will remain closed for the rest of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Students will continue to learn online.
Superintendents from the districts released a joint statement saying the decision was made in the best interest of "the children, staff and communities that we serve."
The school districts include 27J, Adams 12 Five Star, Adams 14, Aurora, Cherry Creek, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas County, Englewood, Jeffco, Littleton, Mapleton, Sheridan and Westminster.
Colorado Small Businesses Can Access Federal Aid Starting Today
Friday, 4/3/2020 at 11:15 a.m.
Small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 outbreak can start applying for federal aid starting today — and many in Northern Colorado are looking to take advantage of the government's new relief program.
Charley Dickey is the owner of Rustic Mountain Charm, a home decor shop in Estes Park. He's been waiting patiently to turn in an application since Rocky Mountain National Park closed and tourists stopped coming to town.
"I'd love it to be able to bring back two of our employees that really need the income for their own personal expenses," Dickey said. "But at this point we had to lay those two off because we can't bankroll them until we know what's going on."
The Paycheck Protection Program offers mostly forgivable loans of up to 2.5 times a business' total monthly payroll. The money can also go towards rent and utilities.
Independent contractors and people who are self-employed can also apply — but have to wait until April 10 to do so.
To be eligible, businesses must have fewer than 500 employees and fill out a two-page application.
DCPA Announces Layoffs, Salary Cuts
Friday, 4/3/2020 at 8:05 a.m.
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts will cut staffing costs by more than 50% through a mix of layoffs, unpaid leave, reduced hours and salary cuts. DCPA president and CEO Janice Sinden said the move is critical to offset the millions lost by show cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past month, the nonprofit organization has had to cancel numerous events, including five stage productions and more than 500 educational classes and school programs.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Says Hunting Season Will Go On
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 5:46 p.m.
Hunting season might be one of the few activities in Colorado this spring that will not see major disruption.
Gov. Polis' stay-at-home order permits outdoor recreation, including fishing and hunting. People are required to keep six feet apart from each other even when they recreate outdoors.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife says big game hunting license applications for the 2020 season will not be delayed and are still due by Tuesday, April 7 at 8:00 p m.
There are a few changes wildlife officials are making this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Young hunters with one-time only apprentice certificates will be allowed to renew for a second year if cancelled classes prevent them from completing their hunter education requirements. And turkey hunters thwarted by the outbreak can get a full refund on their 2020 licenses, provided that unused licenses are returned before the season begins on April 11.
Coloradans are strongly urged to limit travel whenever possible, even for approved outdoor activities. Hunters and outdoors enthusiasts should check with the relevant land management office to learn about specific closures at their destination before heading out.
Poudre School District Has Also Cancelled All In-Person Classes
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 5:39 p.m.
Poudre School District will close all buildings and cancel in-person learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. The district posted a video message from Superintendent Sandra Smyser who said the decision was made after consulting with officials at the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.
Toward the end of her message, Smyer addressed high school seniors. “The class of 2020, I’m sorry this is happening to you,” she and. “Officially there will be no prom, there will be no graduations, not the way we know them anyway. I know that’s just very disappointing and I’m sorry this is happening to you.”
The district is working on creating a virtual graduation ceremony, Smyer said.
Local Brewery, Distillery Help Make Hand Sanitizer For Hospitals
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 4:02 p.m.
Weldwerks Brewing is working with Tower 56 Distillery in Greeley and Pine Bluffs Distilling in Wyoming to make hand sanitizer and provide it to hospitals at cost.
"To be thinking about us, it's overwhelming the amount of gratitude," said Kari Walton, senior registered nurse manager for the intensive care and burn unit at the North Colorado Medical Center (NCMC) in Greeley.
30 gallons of hand sanitizer have been given to Banner Health, the nonprofit parent of several hospitals across Colorado including the NCMC and other hospitals in Brush and Sterling.
"There's a hand sanitizer on the outside of every room and on the inside of every room," Walton said. "So, especially in these times, it's very important."
The sanitizer-making has helped WeldWerks keep all 35 of its staff working full-time and busy during the closures. The brewery is also making batches for other critical services, like the Greeley Fire Department and the United Way of Weld County's cold weather shelter.
"We've been really fortunate to find some awesome partners," said Neal Fisher, the co-owner and head brewer at WeldWerks, in a statement. "Our real hope is that we're just bridging the gap with hand sanitizer and keeping Greeley and Weld County safe."
They hope to eventually make hand sanitizer for the general public too, but want to fulfill requests from other organizations first.
Amcor Packaging in Denver and Pepsi Beverages of Greeley donated supplies for packaging the hand sanitizer. $10,000 for the project came from a donation to the WeldWerks Foundation, Fisher said.
Thompson School District Closed For Remainder Of Year, Classes Online Only
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 3:27 p.m.
Thompson School District in Loveland has canceled in-person learning and closed all buildings for the rest of the current school year.
Superintendent Marc Shaffer announced the decision on the district's website and said it was made after consulting with the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment. Students will continue to take classes online.
The district is also exploring options for graduation including postponing or holding the ceremony virtually.
Gov. Jared Polis recently extended the closure of all schools through April 30 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Unemployment Claims Continue To Rise In Colorado
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 3:19 p.m.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported Thursday anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 new claims are being filed each day amid the COVID 19 outbreak. Last week's total claim numbers surpassed 60,000.
A month ago, Colorado's unemployment rate was at a 44-year low. But due to the pandemic, employers across the state are slashing the size of their workforces to make up for lost revenue.
Hotels are among the hardest hit because almost no one is traveling; Marriott and Hilton are shedding hundreds of workers. The Steamboat Ski Resort says it will officially cut its season short and furlough many of its workers.
Meanwhile, the state's labor department is still waiting for guidance from the federal government on how to handle gig workers and others who are eligible for unemployment benefits under the new CARES Act stimulus package.
The state is asking those workers to hold off on applying for benefits until it receives federal guidance.
State Lawmakers Unlikely To Return Until May
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 3:17 p.m.
Colorado House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, says lawmakers probably won't return to the Capitol this month to resume their work.
Her prediction comes after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Wednesday the legislature can extend the session past May 6 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Becker says she is considering holding some meetings remotely during the stay-at-home order. But she said that could be difficult because the legislature is not set up to do that. She added there could also be legal hurdles.
Asked Thursday about the status of some of the top Democratic priorities such as paid family leave and a public health insurance option, Becker suggested they could become victims of the pandemic.
"A lot of bills will have to wait another year and what those are hasn't been decided," she said. "We want to have conversations with the governor's office on that but he's really very busy right now in the middle of managing this whole thing"
Lawmakers still have to pass a budget for next fiscal year. Becker says writing it will be "incredibly difficult" because the economic projections keep getting worse each week.
RTD Union, Air Force Gradution, Hobby Lobby: Your Afternoon Update
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 2:16 p.m.
Air Force Graduation Moves Up And Online: The Air Force Academy has announced plans to graduate seniors six weeks early in an impromptu online ceremony. The Gazette reports the decision is intended to empty the campus of its remaining cadets amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It's a move the military has not seen since World War II. The decision is expected to leave an estimated $25 million hole in the region's tourism economy.
Hobby Lobby Closes Colorado Stores: Craft chain Hobby Lobby has closed all its stores in Colorado, following a cease and desist order from State Attorney General Phil Weiser. The Denver Post reports the retailer had claimed it was exempted from Gov. Jared Polis's stay-at-home order. Hobby Lobby claimed it was "essential" because it offered materials for homeschooling activities and for people to make their own face masks. Hobby Lobby operates 18 stores in Colorado. Several other businesses in the Denver area were also fined or served "cease and desist orders."
Health Insurance Enrollment Period Extended: The Special Enrollment Period for individual health insurance has been extended through April 30. The original period was set to end tomorrow, April 3. All individual insurance plans, meaning plans not from an employer, are available. Consumers are encouraged to enroll through the state's exchange, Connect for Health Colorado. If someone has lost their job or may lost their job because of the COVID-19 outbreak, they have 60 days to enroll in individual coverage.
RTD Demands Stronger Protections: The union representing workers with the Regional Transportation District in Denver have called for stronger protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ATU Local 17-72 has called on RTD to utilize rear door boarding for passengers and waiving fares, as well as providing masks and gloves for drivers. In a statement, the union said $25 billion in emergency funding for transit agencies has been set aside as part of the recently passed CARES Act in Congress.
Colorado Hospitals Not Prepared For Influx Of Patients, State Says
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 12:50 p.m.
State officials say Colorado is currently unprepared for a surge of patients suffering from COVID-19. Scott Bookman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says hospitals are still unable to procure large quantities of personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses.
"There is a massive supply chain shortage at this point," Bookman said in a call with reporters. "There is a drastic reduction in the availability of PPE. We know that we are short thousands of ventilators."
Delaying a wave of new cases is the reason for the statewide stay at home order in place now, Bookman said.
"We need time for our healthcare system to grow to prepare for this," he said. "It is why we are being so aggressive in our social distancing messaging. We need to flatten the curve. We need to spread out when this peak is going to come so our healthcare system is prepared."
Social distancing measures could delay the peak from between mid-April to the beginning of July, he said. Doing so would give hospitals and public health agencies more time to set up makeshift hospitals and find more ventilators.
The state, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, continues to identify overflow capacity at events complexes and convention centers throughout Colorado to handle the high number of patients expected in the coming weeks.
Staying At Home Not A Safe Option For Some Coloradans
Thursday, 4/2/2020 at 11:58 a.m.
Coloradans are being told to practice social distancing in order to keep the coronavirus in check, but these restrictions can put extra pressure on people living with domestic violence.
Lisa Poppaw, executive director of Crossroads Safehouse in Fort Collins, said in an email that they're seeing a "staggering increase" in the number of calls to their hotline from victims and their children, looking for shelter.
"Not being able to leave the home where the abuse is happening creates an increased risk of violence and lethality," said Jennifer Eyl, executive director of Project Safeguard.
Colorado courts are still taking cases related to public safety, including requests for domestic violence-related protective orders. Oftentimes, those hearings are now being done over the phone or video conference.
Wednesday, 4/1/2020 at 6:50 p.m.
The Weld County Sheriff's Office is investigating reports of drivers being pulled over by someone impersonating a police officer. Reports of impersenators making stops have also been made in Aurora, Erie and Fort Collins.
"If you're out and about and you're essential or you're doing something that is approved under the order, then you're going about your buisness. But we're not actively pulling people over or issuing tickets or anything like that," said Joe Moylan, public information officer for the Weld County Sheriff's Office.
Other police departments have made similar statements assuring people they won't get pulled over just for being out during the state's stay-at-home order.
Wednesday, 4/1/2020 at 5:45 p.m.
The Colorado Supreme Court says state lawmakers can make up the days they are missing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ruling is a win for Democrats who said the days of the legislative session do not have to be consecutive, and they should be able to continue their 120-day session beyond the scheduled end date of May 6. Republicans argued the session should end on May 6 despite the legislature missing several weeks during the public health emergency.
Wednesday, 4/1/2020 at 3:20 p.m.
Colorado's coronavirus response team is racing to add thousands of hospital beds to handle a projected surge of new cases in the coming weeks.
Incident commander Scott Bookman says area hospitals could be overwhelmed by a surge of new COVID-19 cases sometime between April and July. To meet the need, Bookman says Colorado is working to increase its critical care capacity to 5,000 beds by April 18.
"We also know based on the clinical evidence, that these patients are going to require intensive care," Bookman said. "They are going to be severely ill and they will be ventilator dependent from anywhere from an average of 11 to 20 days."
Bookman says arenas, warehouses and stadiums could soon house healthier patients who are recovering from the virus. The state is also looking to free up 10,000 beds at hotels and dorms to isolate and quarantine other patients who aren't showing symptoms.
Wednesday, 4/1/2020 at 1:00 p.m.
Food banks in Northern Colorado and along the Front Range are seeing about a 40% increase in demand for their services, BizWest reports. Many are anticipating even higher need in the coming months as unemployment goes up in the wake of coronavirus closures.
BizWest's Ali C.M. Watkins reports that food banks are purchasing more food because donations from grocery stores have been down sharply.
"Most of these food banks are looking at receiving more financial help than food donations," Watkins said. "So if you're looking to help, a dollar definitely goes a lot further than a can."
Food banks are currently distributing pre-packaged food to clients who either drive-up or walk-up only. That method of distribution promotes social distancing, but requires more volunteers.
Wednesday, 4/1/2020 at 10:30 a.m.
More Northern Colorado medical workers and first responders are getting tested for COVID-19. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has opened a temporary drive-through testing site at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland.
The site is only open to police, firefighters, EMTs and healthcare professionals. Those interested in a test must be symptomatic and register beforehand through their employer.
Tuesday, 3/31/2020 at 3:10 p.m.
Business confidence in Colorado has sunk to a level the state hasn't seen since the midst of the Great Recession.
More than 400 Colorado business owners and executives surveyed in March said they expected their sales, profits and hiring to all take big hits over the coming few months.
The index, compiled by the University of Colorado Boulder Leeds School of Business, fell from a neutral 50.8 score during the first quarter of 2020 to a 29.7. The pessimistic view was overwhelmingly due to coronavirus-related closures and the statewide stay-at-home order in effect until April 11.
Rich Wobbekind, senior economist at the Leeds School's research division, said it was the quarterly survey's biggest decline since 2008.
"So it's very consistent with other indicators we're seeing out there on the business side," Wobbekind said.
The drop in confidence was recorded in nearly every industry from tourism to finance.
Business leaders did signal they're holding out hope for a quick recovery. Optimism for the third quarter of this year looked higher given the federal government's new stimulus package and some Americans' adoption of social distancing to help slow the virus' spread.
Tuesday, 3/31/2020 at 11:10 a.m.
The Colorado State Emergency Operations Center is preparing for an expected increase in the need for intensive care units as a result of COVID-19.
State officials are trying to identify all hospital beds in Colorado by type of care and preparing alternative care sites that could be repurposed if existing ICUs begin to fill up. Larimer County officials are considering repurposing the Larimer County fairgrounds and events complex, The Ranch, to act as an overflow for hospitals that see a surge of patients.
Current estimates show that Colorado has more than 1,800 ICU beds across the state. The state's goal is to add 1,000 beds in April, and another 5,000 by the summer.
Monday, 3/30/2020 at 2:10 p.m.
All essential workers in Colorado now have access to child care during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Colorado Emergency Child Care Collaborative announced Monday that the program has been expanded. It provides child care to people in more industries including educators, janitors and grocery store workers.
The state will provide full tuition credit until May 17. More information can be found on the collaborative's website.
Monday, 3/30/2020 at 10:15 a.m.
Wildfire season presents a challenge for land managers in the face of the coronavirus. As COVID-19 continues to spread, the Forest Service says it's adapting management strategies for fire season.
Firefighters tend to work and live in close proximity with one another. Professor John Freemuth of Boise State University says they're performing critical work.
"Obviously those people want to be out there and fighting the fire for a number of reasons but they can't do it if it's going to project other problems onto all of us in terms with the spread of the virus," he said.
The Forest Service has already paused some fire management activities because of the coronavirus, including prescribed burns.