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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: Hundreds Protest Stay-At-Home Measures At State Capitol

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Ken Lund
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CC BY-SA 2.0

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, 4/19/2020 at 4:37  p.m.

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Hundreds Protest Stay-At-Home Measures At State Capitol

Hundreds gathered in front of the Colorado State Capitol to protest the state’s stay-at-home order Sunday. 

Live aerial video from 9 News and Denver 7 showed a lack of social distancing by many of the protesters. Reports and images show some wearing masks and others not. 

Signs seen at the protest include “Unemployment takes lives, too” and “Everything we do is essential,” according to Denverite.

Polling released Thursday by Pew Research Center showed a majority of Americans are more concerned that COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted too early than too late.

The protest events were organized by the Libertarian Party of Colorado and several county Libertarian groups as well as ReOpen Colorado, a closed Facebook group dedicated to ending the broad stay-at-home order and only forcing the elderly and immunocompromised to stay at home, according to Denver 7.

While it is true that the elderly are at the highest risk for infection, hospitalization and death, the young are not safe. In March, the CDC reported that almost a third of the cases reported by mid-March were people 20–44 years old. 20 percent of the people hospitalized were in that same age group. 

Health experts are concerned that a lack of social distancing would overwhelm hospitals and prevent those most at risk from receiving the care they need.

Westword reporter Chase Woodruff found two healthcare workers in full scrubs standing in the middle of a nearby street during red lights as a “reminder” to protestors of why stay-at-home measures are in place.

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Protesters to Oppose Stay-At-Home Measures At State Capitol

A group opposed toGov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order is planning a protest at the state capitol at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The group called “Operation Gridlock Denver” is urging participants to block the roads around the capitol building in solidarity against the shutdown.

More than 800 people had RSVP’d to the group’s Facebook event, but the page has since been removed from the social media site as of Saturday.

For context, polls released Thursday by Pew Research Center show that a majority of Americans are more concerned that COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted too early than too late. With 73 percent saying they believe the worst of the virus’ impacts have yet to come.

“We understand people are frustrated with our current situation, but the stay-at-home order protects the health, safety and welfare of our entire community,” Erika Martinez, a spokeswoman for Denver’s Joint Information Center, wrote in an email to the Denver Post. “Operation Gridlock would be a wholly irresponsible and reckless way to express those frustrations. We must remind everyone that it is illegal to willfully block a public right-of-way.”

A Facebook event for another protest in front of the state capitol at 2 p.m. is still up, with 211 planning to attend. 

The event page says protesters will be wearing masks and keeping six feet apart, which wasn’t always happening at similar protests against other stay-at-home orders that have taken place instates including Ohio and Michigan.

In a statement to the Denver Post, a spokesperson for Gov. Polis said: “Coloradans have a First Amendment right to protest and to free speech. Those participating are only endangering themselves and others by ignoring the stay-at-home order, and we urge them to stay home. No one wants to reopen Colorado businesses and lift these restrictions more than the governor, but in order to do that, Coloradans have to stay home as much as possible, except for critical activities, wear masks and wash their hands to slow the spread of this virus.”

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, the Governor said he was happy that people were expressing their first amendment rights, but hopes they are being safe about it.

A driving protest also happened in Grand Junction on Saturday

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Air Force Salutes Front Range Healthcare Workers

Front Range residents got a special visit from the Air Force's Thunderbirds on Saturday. 

The military's air demonstration team flew over various communities from Greeley to Denver. The flight was a salute to the state's healthcare workers and first responders working on the front lines against COVID-19. 

It ended in a flyover of the United States Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs.

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Colorado's Unemployment Rate Is Up To 4.5%

Colorado's unemployment rate jumped two full percentage points in March.

The Department of Labor and Employment says a wave of COVID-19 related jobless claims was to blame.

The new rate of 4.5% is the highest it's been since 2015. It's also higher than the national average.

The labor department says jobless claims are likely to increase as various industries including leisure and hospitality and transportation continue to layoff workers.

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Art Collective Meow Wolf Announces Layoffs, Furloughs

Meow Wolf is laying off 201 of its employees across its five locations, including Denver. The interactive art collective will also furlough an additional 56 employees following the temporary closure of its main exhibition site in Santa Fe due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Denver Post reports that the Denver location, which is currently under construction, is still on target for its 2021 scheduled opening. Meow Wolf officials would not disclose how many of the Denver employees were impacted by the layoffs and furloughs.

Read more at the Denver Post →

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Updates from Thursday, 4/16/2020:

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CDPHE Believes COVID-19 Cases Have Plateaued In Colorado

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment believes COVID-19 cases have plateaued. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, says the rate of decline will help determine when the governor can lift the stay-at-home order.

"We know that we need to decrease the number of cases that are occurring in the state to be able to successfully manage disease transmission, with aggressive disease control strategies like isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing," she said.

Herlihy says mass testing availability will also be important when re-opening the state. They've set a goal of establishing a minimum of one testing site in each county. The governor's stay-at-home order is in effect through April 26.

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Colorado Unemployment Claims Doubled In One Week

More than 100,000 Coloradans filed initial unemployment claims last week, more than double the initial claims from the week before. That’s according to new figures from the state’s Department of Labor and Employment.

$62 million in benefits were paid over that previous week. For context, average weekly benefits amounted to $19 million during the height of the Great Recession. The hospitality and food services industries were by far the hardest hit.

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U.S. Air Force Academy Will Hold Private Graduation For Cadets

Vice President Mike Pence is expected to deliver a commencement speech to the U.S. Air Force Academy’s class of 2020 on Saturday. But because of the coronavirus emergency, the ceremony is just for cadets. It is not open to families or members of the public.

The graduation comes after a shortened final semester for seniors. Cadets will practice social distancing during the event, which will include a traditional flyover by Thunderbirds jets. However, the planes will skip their usual aerobatics.

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Gov. Polis Outlines Future Reopening Plans

During Wednesday's briefing, Gov. Jared Polis gave residents a glimpse of what life will look like when the stay-at-home order is lifted as soon as April 26.

Polis said bars and restaurants will not return to normal right away. And don't expect to go to a Rockies games anytime soon. He said some restrictions on movement will be necessary until there is a vaccine for the virus.

"As we reopen our state, things are going to work differently than they did before. We need to really implement and enshrine some of these social distancing measures in the way we live, the way we do businesses, the way we play for a matter of months," he said.

That includes continuing to wear face masks in public and limiting how many people can be in the same space. Polis also said businesses should consider adding temporary glass barriers at workstations.

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Updates from Wednesday, 4/15/2020:

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New Isolation Facility Ready In Fort Collins

A new isolation facility for people experiencing homelessness and who are sick, or have COVID-19, has been identified in Fort Collins. The buildings are owned by the Colorado State University Research Foundation. They will accommodate overflow from isolation rooms at the Northside Aztlan emergency shelter.

The facility includes five bedrooms with private baths but could be modified to house up to 15 people. The site will open as the need arises.

Three people were in isolation at the Aztlan shelter as of Wednesday morning. Two others there have tested positive for COVID-19.

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Boulder Municipal Building
Credit Ken Lund / CC BY-SA 2.0
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CC BY-SA 2.0

Boulder Furloughs Full-Time And Seasonal Employees

The City of Boulder will furlough 175 full time workers and 562 seasonal employees starting April 20.

According to BizWest reporter Dan Mika, the furloughs were deemed necessary as the city expects coronavirus shutdowns to cut their annual revenue by nearly 10%.

"Cities really rely on the sales tax to fund their day to day operations," Mika told KUNC. "So when you don't have people buying things, and you don't have people spending money in that city, it's going to cause a void."

Borrowing money will also be difficult for Colorado cities because the state's TABOR rules require voters to approve debt payments.

Read more at BizWest →

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Fort Morgan Beef Plant Reduces Production, Cuts Shift As COVID-19 Spreads Among Workers

A Fort Morgan meatpacking plant has scaled back its operating hours as coronavirus spreads among its workers.

The Cargill beef processing facility cut its second shift as of Monday and will be producing less meat as a result. The company has confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the plant, though both Cargill and Morgan County health officials haven’t released specific numbers.

“As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily reduce shifts at our Fort Morgan protein plant,” Cargill executive Jon Nash said in a statement. “This will allow us to minimize the impact of COVID-19 and continue to follow health department guidelines.”

The union representing the plant, Teamsters Local 455, told 9News that at least one worker has died.

Another Colorado meatpacker, JBS USA in Greeley, is currently closed due to an outbreak. Hundreds of employees there were exposed to the virus, and at least three employees have died.

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Hotel Rooms In Denver To Help High-Risk Individuals Experiencing Homelessness 

People experiencing homelessness in Denver who are over the age of 65, or have known pre-existing respiratory illnesses, will get their own motel and hotel rooms starting today. The city of Denver, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and shelter partners have teamed up to arrange for these so-called "protective action" rooms to prevent the spread of coronavirus among high-risk individuals at crowded shelters.

The program will start with people already staying at the city's National Western Complex emergency shelter, and will soon be expanded to people staying at other shelters in the city. It's a step made by the city to address a potentially explosive health crisis among the homeless population staying in shelters where social distancing cannot be practiced effectively.

The move came as officials and service providers learned more about how the disease can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers. 

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless expects to house 30 to 50 individuals in protective action rooms by day's end. More rooms will be filled in the coming days.

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Updates from Tuesday, 4/14/2020:

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Crews Race To Build Medical Overflow Facility At The Ranch In Loveland

A medical overflow facility in Loveland could be ready for its first COVID-19 patients as soon as this weekend.

More than 300 crew members are working around the clock to get about 1,000 isolation pods built at The Ranch Events Complex.

During a tour on Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis said getting this facility and others like it across the state up and running is an important step towards lifting the state's stay-at-home order.

"As we move towards reopening our economy, it's likely that the incidents of the virus will increase again," Polis said. "It's decreasing now — which is great — but we can't stay closed forever."

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Credit Matt Bloom / KUNC
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KUNC
Workers move drywall down the hallways of an alternate care facility at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland.

Once open, the surge facility will house COVID-19 patients from local hospitals who don't need critical levels of care.

The state's emergency operations center will oversee day-to-day operations. Details around staffing and other logistics like transportation will be finalized in the next few days.

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Colorado Hospitals Celebrate Discharge Of Recovered COVID-19 Patients

North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley met a 71-year-old woman with applause as she left the hospital earlier this week. She is the hospital's 100th coronavirus patient to recover and be discharged since the beginning of the outbreak, according to an announcement by Banner Health on Tuesday.

The UC Health system announced it has released more than 370 COVID-19 patients, according to KDVR. 120 came from UC's Northern Colorado hospitals, 200 from its metro Denver hospitals and 60 from its southern hospitals.

There are still about 250 coronavirus patients in UC Health's facilities.

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A file photo of JBS's main offices in Greeley. The outbreak at a meatpacking facility in Greeley has led to action from the governor and local health officials.

Union Demands Testing For Workers Before Greeley Meatpacking Plant Reopens

The union representing a majority of workers at a Greeley meatpacking plant is demanding coronavirus tests for all employees before the facility reopens.

President of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, Kim Cordova, said the company has not done enough to protect workers on the job, failing to provide adequate personal protective equipment and adopt social distancing guidelines. The union represents about 3,000 workers at the plant.

Cordova noted that JBS announced a $1 million investment in COVID-19 tests for its Greeley beef plant workers on April 10, after receiving attention from Vice President Mike Pence and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

A JBS spokesman said Tuesday the company would not be mass testing employees. The 14-day closure of the facility acted as a quarantine period, making tests, "no longer necessary," the spokesman said.

"We don't want this to be a PR stunt to try to force workers to come back to work," Cordova said. "Because workers have the right to refuse to work in an unsafe working condition, and we're going to make sure we advise the workers of their rights."

A public health order signed by state and local officials closed the JBS USA plant on April 11. The company first delayed then canceled tests for employees.

The Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment is working on a new public health order that will address how the company can safely reopen the plant next week, according to an agency spokesperson.

The facility has been the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak in Weld County. At least three workers at the Greeley plant have died from the infectious disease, while hundreds more have shown up at local clinics with COVID-19 symptoms.

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In Closing Greeley Plant, JBS Cancels All Employee Testing

After days of confusion about a COVID-19 testing program for employees, meatpacking company JBS USA says it will not be mass testing workers at its Greeley beef processing plant.

"We will not be testing our team members," said Cameron Bruett, a JBS spokesman, via email. "If we had continued with testing, anyone who tested positive would have been quarantined. We took a more aggressive approach to quarantine all team members until the facility re-opens."

On Monday the company announced the facility would stay shuttered until April 24, so the facility can be deep-cleaned. A statement instructed employees to shelter in place at home.

Hours before the company announced the extended closure Monday, Gov. Jared Polis told reporters that mass testing would begin shortly, and said he'd be calling in the Colorado National Guard to support testing efforts at the plant.

"We appreciate the governor's support as well as the support of UC Health," Bruett said. "Ultimately, given our decision to quarantine all team members, testing was no longer necessary."

Bruett did not address whether employees would be tested before re-entering the plant when it reopens next week.

The company closed the plant April 10 for a previously scheduled three-day holiday weekend. The facility has been a significant source of new transmissions of the coronavirus, according to a Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment investigation.

More than 270 employees and their dependents showed up with likely COVID-19 symptoms to local hospitals and clinics in the Greeley-area between March 1 and April 2, according to the investigation.

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Heritage Park Encampment Temporarily Approved As Outdoor Shelter

A tent encampment in Fort Collins now has support from the city as an outdoor shelter for people experiencing homelessness. As of last week, there were about 75 tents in Heritage Park, which is adjacent to the city's emergency shelter.

Beth Sowder is director of social sustainability for the city. She says they've temporarily legalized camping within the designated area while state and county stay at home orders are in effect.

"The really best solutions for long term is having enough adequate housing for everybody along with the supportive services that they need. And with the lack of that, sometimes you're left with the best of bad ideas," Sowder said.

The city is providing portable toilets and on-site security at the encampment. Other services, like showers and meals, are available during the day inside the Aztlan Center. One individual at the center has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation.

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Weld County Sheriff Defends County Jail's Coronavirus Response

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams is responding to a lawsuit alleging that his office did not do enough to protect inmates and staff from the coronavirus inside the county jail. In documents filed in federal court Monday, Reams says he took proactive steps early on — such as ordering extra cleaning supplies and drafting a quarantine plan. Nine inmates and 16 deputies at the Weld County Jail had tested positive for COVID-19.

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Updates from Monday, 4/13/2020:

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Greeley Meatpacking Plant Closes, Employees Ordered To Self-Quarantine

A Greeley meatpacking plant will be closed until April 24 while its employees are instructed to self-quarantine at home.

JBS USA announced the closure Monday, citing COVID-19 spread among its workers. A Weld County Public Health Department investigation found more than 270 likely cases linked to the meatpacking facility, though only a fraction have been laboratory tested and confirmed.

Employees will continue to be paid while the plant is closed, according to a company press release.

Speaking at a briefing with reporters Monday Gov. Jared Polis said the closure of JBS USA’s beef processing facility is necessary to protect workers’ safety and ensure the plant can eventually reopen. In a statement, the company says it will be donating 1,000 tests to low income and uninsured Weld County residents, forgoing mass testing of its employees.

“Rather than test its team members, the company has decided to take more aggressive action and self-quarantine Greeley beef employees until plant reopening,” the statement reads.

Testing was scheduled to begin over the weekend, but was postponed.

"There will be sanitization of the plant," Polis said. "There will be limited work happening with limited staff, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. But not in production capacity until we can work hard to make it reopen as soon as possible."

Two employees at the facility have died from COVID-19. More than a dozen are currently hospitalized. The Greeley plant has been at the center of one of the state's worst outbreaks of the coronavirus. The company did not respond to KUNC's request for comment.

In a letter from Weld County Public Health Department executive director Mark Wallace (PDF), he notes that some employees told healthcare workers of a "work while sick" culture at the plant, and documents that nine out of 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases continued to work while showing symptoms of the disease.

In a public health order (PDF), local public health officials are also imposing new guidelines for the JBS plant to resume operations. The company has to screen employees, and any employee that has had fever, shortness of breath or presence of a cough in the previous 72 hours is not allowed into the plant. Same for anyone who's had exposure to someone with a respiratory illness in the previous 7 days or come into contact with anyone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days.

The company will also be tasked with instituting new social distancing measures in the plant, making sure employees have at least 6 feet of distance between them.

In the letter, Wallace warns that failure to comply with the order could have their managers or employees facing fines and possible jail time.

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Polis Urges Hotels To Open To People Experiencing Homelessness

Gov. Jared Polis is urging hotel owners to open their rooms to people who are experiencing homelessness. He says the abundance of empty rooms should be used to keep some of Colorado's most vulnerable residents healthy during the coronavirus outbreak.

"We feel very strongly there should not be mass sites to house people. That's a very public health situation. It should be distributed as much as possible," Polis said.

State lawmakers recently sent Polis a letter saying the homeless shelters were "in dire need of resources." Polis has also deployed two hundred and fifty Colorado National Guard members to help communities take care of people who are experiencing homelessness.

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Cargill Meatpacking Plant In Fort Morgan Reports COVID-19 Cases

Another Northern Colorado meatpacking facility is reporting positive cases of COVID-19.

The Cargill beef plant in Fort Morgan confirmed coronavirus has infected some of its workers, but wouldn't give a precise number, citing privacy concerns.

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KUNC
Exterior of the Cargill meatpacking plant in Fort Morgan, pictured in 2016.

About 2,100 people cut meat along conveyor belts in the facility, making it Morgan County's top employer. According to state data, Morgan County has 59 positive cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday afternoon.

A Cargill spokesman says the plant is still running and has adopted new safety protocols. A new Cargill policy requires a 14-day quarantine for any employee that has come into contact with a COVID-19 positive worker.

The news comes after a rapidly growing number of cases were reported at JBS USA's beef plant in Greeley last week. Two employees there have died from the disease. Dozens more are sick. A plan to test all employees this weekend was postponed, according to a notice sent to workers. It's unclear if the company will wait for testing to commence before reopening the plant.

The outbreak at JBS drew the attention of Vice President Mike Pence and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who both say they're working with the company in an attempt to contain it.

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Colorado COVID Relief Fund Offering Grants To Community Organizations

Colorado is helping nonprofits and other groups who serve those who have been hit hard by the coronavirus.

The Colorado COVID Relief Fund is providing grants to community-based organizations who work with populations that — due to race or socioeconomic status — have been disproportionately affected by the virus. This includes immigrant and refugee populations.

Cristian Solano-Cordova, a spokesperson for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, says undocumented immigrants have been especially impacted.

"A lot of undocumented people don't qualify for unemployment insurance. They also don't qualify for the federal COVID relief fund," Solano-Cordova said. "So how are these people supposed to stay quarantined without a source of income?"

Eligible organizations can receive an unrestricted grant of up to $25,000 dollars. The relief fund is accepting applications every two weeks until the end of May.

Colorado COVID Relief Fund Application →

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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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