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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, and answer your questions about Colorado's response to its spread in our state.

Latest Updates: State Investigates Aurora Nursing Home Outbreak

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At least 33 residents of the Juniper Village at Aurora have tested positive for the virus. The facility houses 46 residents.

KUNC's newsroom is here to keep you informed with the latest news and updates about the coronavirus in Colorado.

Most recent news briefs are at the top of this page. For more information and answers to frequently asked questions, see our resources page here. For previous weeks' live blogs, click here.

Last updated Sunday, 4/12/2020 at 9:18 a.m.

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Churches Hold Easter Sunday Services Virtually

Easter sunrise services look different across Colorado this year, due to social distancing practices to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Colorado Council of Churches’ recorded a video Sunrise Service and released it Saturday. Usually, the service is held with thousands of tightly packed worshippers at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater.

“To preach on Easter Sunday has always been quite simple for ministers,” said Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre, one of the worship leaders in the video. He’s an ordained Southern Baptist preacher and a Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. “As long as the focus is on your life and on hope. But this Easter Sunday 2020 is a little different.”

The Community United Church of Christ in Boulder held a quiet, solemn zoom call with a handful of parishioners. Park Hill United Methodist Church held worship in an intimate youtube stream.

More than 500 worshipers got together to simultaneously watch a highly produced, pre-recorded Easter service with the massive Red Rocks Church, which has locations in Colorado, Texas, and Brussels.

Some, like the Faith Bible Chapel International in Arvada, are offering an online service and a “drive-in” service. Worshippers can drive to the church’s parking lot and tune in to a special radio station to participate as a group without breaking social distancing guidelines.

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State Investigates Aurora Nursing Home Outbreak

Almost three-quarters of residents at the Juniper Village at Aurora have tested positive for COVID-19, state health officials said Saturday. At least five have died from the disease. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it is working with the Tri-County Health Department to investigate the nursing home’s infection prevention practices.

Last week, the agency sent a team to inspect the facility after receiving a formal complaint about its handling of the outbreak. The full investigation could take months.

Protecting nursing homes is a top concern for public health officials because COVID-19 tends to cause more severe illness in older adults.

The state so far has been slow to release details about outbreaks at senior living facilities, but says it also plans to start sharing more data this week.

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Pence To Ensure More Tests Available At Greeley Meatpacking Facility Due To Outbreak

A rapidly growing coronavirus outbreak at a Greeley meatpacking facility has drawn concern from Vice President Mike Pence.

At a press briefing Friday Pence said he'd spoken with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner about increasing the number of COVID-19 tests at a meatpacking plant in Colorado, though he didn't explicitly name the company or its exact location.

"At this point there are some 14 people hospitalized, maybe two to three hundred of the workforce has been impacted," Pence said. "And we talked about providing those resources this weekend."

The Greeley plant — owned and operated by JBS USA — has been at the center of an outbreak that has drawn criticism from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents a portion of its workforce. It's also been under investigation by local public health officials over its handling of social distancing measures within the facility.

The Weld County public health director, Mark Wallace, said he hasn't ruled out shutting the Greeley plant down if the outbreak continues.

The company confirmed its first coronavirus-related death at the Greeley facility earlier this week. Other large-scale meatpacking facilities throughout the country have been forced to close as the virus spreads.

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Denver Reports Racial Disparity In COVID-19 Cases

Denver, like other major cities across the country, is reporting a disproportionate number of black residents with COVID-19. They make up almost 10% of the population – but according to recent city data, account for 13% of COVID-19 cases. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock addressed the disparity in a virtual town hall this week.

"Our goal is to continue to remain committed to the strategies that center around racial equity and the community’s response to COVID-19 and the pandemic here in our city," Hancock said.

Hispanic residents make up 24% of Denver’s COVID-19 cases while white, non-Hispanics represent 40%. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports Denver County has the highest case count in the state. The agency has not released race and ethnicity data for each county.

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Colorado Emergency Declaration Extended

Gov. Jared Polis is extending Colorado's emergency disaster declaration for another 30 days, through May 8. He says the move will free up more than $60 million for the state's coronavirus response and make it easier to get medical supplies. Polis is also extending this month’s severance tax filing deadline to May 15.

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Updates from Thursday, 4/9/2020:

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Jackie Hai
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KUNC

New Unemployment Claims Topped 46,000 In Colorado Last Week

More than 46,000 Coloradans filed for unemployment benefits last week as coronavirus-related job losses continued. The Colorado Department of Labor and Unemployment says workers in the hospitality and food industries accounted for over a quarter of those claims. Boulder, Denver, Larimer, Weld and Summit are among the counties with the largest increases.

Colorado paid $29.8 million in unemployment benefits last week, more than the average of $19 million paid each week during the height of the great recession.

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COVID-19 Cases At JBS On The Rise

A Greeley meatpacking plant has emerged as a hotspot for COVID-19 cases. The Greeley Tribune reports the JBS USA beef processing facility has seen more than 30 cases among its thousands of workers.

In a statement, the director of the Weld County Public Health Department says he is investigating to ensure the company is complying with an order meant to keep workers safe. He hasn’t ruled out closing the plant if the outbreak continues. The plant saw its first death related to COVID-19 earlier this week.

Read more from the Greeley Tribune →

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Rae Ellen Bichell
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KUNC

Testing, PPE Supply Shortages Slow Testing In Colorado

Testing to confirm the prevalence of COVID-19 in Colorado communities has slowed in recent days due to a shortage of supplies. Scott Bookman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a call with reporters Thursday that kits are still in short supply, even as more labs in the state have the capacity to test for the disease.

"There is still a great deal of challenge due to a lack of (personal protective equipment), a lack of viral transport media and a lack of sterile swabs to actually collect the specimens for testing," Bookman said.

After an uptick in the number of tests in late March and the first couple days of April, a lack of supplies has caused testing to lag this week, according to state data.

The only way to truly manage the disease is to implement mass testing and then isolate those who are positive, Bookman said. The Trump administration has announced that federal support for some testing sites throughout the country will end this week as local capacity ramps up.

Even if the number of new cases of COVID-19 slows in Colorado, public health officials warn life won’t be going back to normal any time soon. A statewide stay at home order is in effect until April 26. But after that, Colorado Office of Emergency Management director Mike Willis said some form of social distancing will be necessary until a vaccine is developed.

"Whether we do it in some sort of official policy guidance or we just continue to ask people to behave differently than they did before COVID-19 came to our state, you can expect to be encouraged to continue social distancing for the foreseeable future," Willis said.

State public health officials expect COVID-19 to circulate in communities throughout the state even if the rates of new cases and deaths level off.

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City of Greeley

Weld County Reports Most COVID-19 Cases Per Capita On The Front Range

Weld County continues to report the highest per capita number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the Front Range. More densely populated counties, like Denver, are showing lower per capita infection rates.

Weld County's public health director Mark Wallace says many major employers in the area — like food processing facilities — are considered essential and remain open, hindering effective social distancing. He also cited outbreaks at two residential care facilities in the county and residents' independent streak as reasons for the unusually high numbers.

"So we're looking a lot at our messaging because we've talked about ways to prevent it. But we think that that's missing the mark for people who have a bit of that Western spirit, people who say 'I don't know anybody's who's sick, so I'm going to keep leading my life,'" Wallace said.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 614 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 36 deaths in Weld County.

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Late Rent Payments Doubled In April

The state's largest association of landlords and property managers says it's seen an uptick in late rent payments this month. The Colorado Apartment Association reports the number of residents late paying April rent is double the previous month's rate. However, more than 80% of residents were still on time paying rent.

The association says residents who are having financial trouble because of COVID-19 should talk to their landlord or property manager to set up a new payment plan. So far courts in Denver, Weld and Boulder counties have paused eviction proceedings amid the public health crisis.

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Updates from Wednesday, 4/8/2020:

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Matt Bloom
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KUNC

The Ranch In Loveland Will Get 1,000 Beds For COVID-19 Patients

Construction is set to get underway Thursday on an emergency surge facility for Northern Colorado's COVID-19 patients.

The facility at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland will hold 1,060 beds, according to the Colorado state Unified Command Center. They're for patients who are sick with the virus, but not sick enough to need critical levels of care.

The extra space will free up beds in the region's hospitals for those battling more severe cases of the respiratory illness.

The Loveland facility is expected to be up and running by the end of the month. Similar surge sites are being planned in Denver, Westminster, Pueblo and Grand Junction.

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Vail Resorts Announces Layoffs Amid Shutdowns

Vail Resorts plans to lay off about 2,000 workers at its various ski resorts, lodges and hotels. The Denver Post reports Beaver Creek had the largest number of job reductions at 297, while Vail Mountain cut 204 jobs.

Although ski resorts were initially exempt from bans on large social gatherings, both Vail and competitor Alterra Mountain Company voluntarily shut down on March 13.

Read more from the Denver Post →

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JBS Employee Dies Of COVID-19

A Northern Colorado meatpacking company has had its first death from the coronavirus. The Greeley Tribune reports 78-year-old Saul Sanchez worked for decades at the JBS beef processing plant in Greeley. He was one of the first COVID-19 cases to be identified at the facility. His case has drawn the attention of public health officials concerned about the employer becoming a hotspot of new cases. So far, at least a dozen JBS workers have tested positive for the virus.

Read more from the Greeley Tribune →

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Colorado Creative Industries

State Sponsors Kids Mask Design Challenge

Colorado kids can create their own masks as part of the state’s Mask Design Challenge. Started by the Governor’s Innovation Response Team, the contest aims to make masks less scary for children and offer a fun way to show the value of masks for maintaining public health.

Online submissions will be featured on the Colorado Creative Industries Facebook page, and a select few will be printed on masks by local companies.

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ACLU Lawsuit Alleges Mismanagement Of Weld County Jail During Coronavirus Outbreak

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit against Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams on Wednesday, alleging that the sheriff's office has not done enough to protect inmates from the coronavirus. Nine inmates and 13 deputies have tested positive over the past week, according to a spokesman for the sheriff's office.

According to the complaint, the seven plaintiffs, all inmates in the Weld County jail, are at an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 because they have underlying health or medical conditions.

With this court filing, lawyers are asking for an emergency order to force Reams to take certain actions such as disinfecting the jail daily, providing personal protective equipment to staff and inmates, and giving inmates the ability to practice social distancing with six feet of separation. 

Read more from KUNC's Leigh Paterson →

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COVID-19 Sickens Inmates, Deputies At Weld County Jail

Nine inmates and 13 deputies at the Weld County jail have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week. Sickened inmates are quarantined in the jail; one has been hospitalized. The deputies have been told to stay at home. A spokesman for the Weld County sheriff’s office says they don’t know exactly how the virus has spread.

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State Lawmakers To Discuss Options For Remote Legislature

The state Capitol will reopen briefly this afternoon while lawmakers consider a plan to get some work done during the coronavirus outbreak.

Party leaders will discuss the option of holding some of their meetings remotely during the pandemic. But House Speaker KC Becker says working online won't be easy for the legislature.

"We're just not currently set up for it. We may not even be allowed to do it statutorily. Maybe we could pass a resolution. Maybe we could pass a statute. Maybe we could appropriate money quickly. But to get it set up would certainly take some time," Becker said.

Democratic leaders say they might be able to hold some committee hearings and vote on important bills online. But the proposal could create friction because some top Republicans don't want to work while the public is locked out of the building.

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Updates from Tuesday, 4/7/2020:

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Colorado Mountain College Waives Tuition, Books, Fees For Summer Term

Colorado Mountain College will use its federal COVID-19 stimulus money to invest in the mountain communities they serve. The board of trustees voted to pass along $1.6 million in expected dollars to students, local businesses and workers. This will allow CMC, for the first time ever, to will waive tuition, books and fees for students during the summer academic term.

With the federal funds and CMC’s savings, the college leadership created CMC Responds to help local communities. In addition to the waivers, the program has other initiatives which include providing internet service, offering free consulting and training for local businesses and donating laptops to students and personal protective equipment to local hospitals and clinics

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Woodward, Hexcel Merger Off Table Amid Coronavirus-Related Layoffs

Fort Collins aerospace manufacturer Woodward has abandoned its $6.3 billionmerger with Hexcel and says it's  planning for layoffs and furloughs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

BizWest's Dan Mika reports that in a joint statement, Woodward and Connecticut-based Hexcel said the increasing pressure on the aerospace industry has forced the companies to focus on their own businesses. Woodward also said it would drastically cut operating costs, including through a yet to be determined number of layoffs and furloughs.

Woodward and Hexcel are both suppliers to airplane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus SE, along with engine manufacturer General Electric, which have either laid off or furloughed staff and tapped billions in credit to weather several cancellations in airplane orders.

Read more from BizWest →

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dmgice
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CC BY 2.0

Denver Pop Culture Con Postponed, Convention Center To Become Field Hospital

Denver Pop Culture Con has been postponed to November. The annual event celebrating comic books, TV shows and movies typically brings more than 100,000 attendees to the Colorado Convention Center. But due to concerns over COVID-19, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the venue will be transformed into a 2,000-bed field hospital through June, with an option to extend the lease. Denver Pop Culture Con was previously scheduled for July.

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Updates From Monday, 4/6/2020:

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COVID-19 Tests At Fort Collins Emergency Homeless Shelter Return Negative

Five people experiencing homelessness who were tested for COVID-19 in Fort Collins last week have received their results, and they're all negative. All five were staying at the Northside Aztlan emergency homeless shelter. Their test results came back late last week. The individuals were tested because they had symptoms of the disease.

Fort Collins homeless COVID-19 response manager Holly LeMasurier says the community will remain vigilant for signs of the disease.

"We were very relieved. Although just given living conditions and underlying health conditions, we are still bracing ourselves and operating to get services and protections in place to prepare," LaMasurier said.

In the last week, five more symptomatic people have gone into isolation at the Aztlan Center. They have not yet been tested. LeMasurier says an off-site isolation center for people experiencing homelessness is in the planning stages.

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Troops Deploy From Colorado Springs To New York City

U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs is deploying more than 1,000 troops to New York City, which is one of the country’s hardest-hit coronavirus regions. Uniformed doctors, nurses and other medical workers are leaving from Peterson Air Force Base, a spokesman at NORTH-COM said. Many of the troops will be assigned to a convention center in Manhattan that has been converted into a 2,500 bed hospital.

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Secretary Of State Looking At Signature-Gathering Alternatives For Ballot Questions

Colorado’s Secretary of State Jena Griswold says her office is rethinking how residents can collect signatures for statewide ballot questions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Spring and summer is usually when a lot of campaigns collect the signatures they need to get a ballot question in front of voters in November. But they have to be gathered in person and on paper — something that's nearly impossible to do under the current statewide stay-at-home order. Griswold says the governor may have to ask the state Supreme Court to allow signature gathering to happen online, which has never been done before.

"It's not a clear answer to what we can do, but we've been working over the past few weeks with stakeholders to examine possible options," Griswold said.

Griswold says she hopes to have a solution within the next few weeks.

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Jackie Hai
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KUNC

State Health Department Releases New Projections

Projections from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment say the best the state can hope for is 330 COVID-19 deaths by June 1.

The projections, released yesterday, vary based on the virus’s base infection rate and social distancing compliance. The model also predicts the peak date and number for infections and hospitalizations in and out of intensive care units.

This creates a lot of possible outcomes, some of which are significantly scarier than others.

In a worst-case scenario, with little to no social distancing and a higher infection rate, the state could see more than 33,000 deaths by June 1. Everything in between ranges from around 1,000 deaths or below to more than 20,000.

The modeling team included researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, CU Boulder and CU Denver. Dr. Jonathan Samet is one of those researchers. He’s a pulmonary physician, epidemiologist, and dean of the Colorado School of Public Health.

“I think the model says that distancing is necessary if we’re going to keep the epidemic controlled in a way that our healthcare system can address it,” he said.

The model also shows that with 80% social distancing compliance at the higher infection rate, the number of statewide infections could peak at 6,500 by late August. At 40% social distancing, the peak would come as soon as early June but would result in more than 480,000 infections.

“We’re in this for a longer run than anybody wants,” Dr. Samet said. “Then it’s going to be up to public health agencies, the governor to set policies that will safely allow us to begin (to) return to normal.”

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State Officials Warn Colorado Hasn't Seen The Worst Yet

The worst is still yet to come during Colorado’s COVID-19 outbreak.

That’s the message from state public health officials trying to make sense of conflicting models showing varying optimistic and pessimistic views of the near future.

State epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy says the state’s peak is likely to be more than a month away, and depends entirely on how strictly residents adhere to social distancing spelled out in Governor Jared Polis’s March 26 stay-at-home order.

Because it can take several days to a week or more for someone infected with the coronavirus to show symptoms, be tested, and receive their results, state officials don’t have clear data that shows how well social distancing is working in Colorado. In a few days, the governor’s order should begin to show itself in the number of new cases, Herlihy said. That will give public health officials a clearer picture of when the peak is likely to hit.

“And so based on the models we have, it could be anywhere from May until later in the summer,” Herlihy said in a remote briefing with reporters.

One model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed Colorado’s peak number of deaths and strains on hospital resources has already passed. But that model relies on a different set of assumptions about how seriously residents take the order to stay at home and limit social interaction, Herlihy said.

“To best prepare our healthcare system, and ensure we have adequate PPE, ventilators, supplies, hospital beds, ideally we would like to see that curve flattened and that peak later so that our system is best prepared,” Herlihy said.

State officials are estimating that so far about 17,000 to 18,000 Coloradans have had COVID-19, even as confirmed case counts lag far behind due to a shortage of testing.

As of Monday 976 people in Colorado have been hospitalized and 148 people have died from the disease. More than 40 long term care facilities in the state currently have outbreaks of COVID-19.

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Colorado News Media Feels Economic Pain Of Coronavirus

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. Gannett-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.

And the respective parent companies of Steamboat Pilot & Today and Westword have started cutting hours and salary pay for employees.

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.

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