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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: Hospitals 'Implore' Weld County To Reconsider Its 'Safer-at-Work' Plan

North Colorado Medical Center
Stephanie Daniel
/
KUNC

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, 4/26/2020 at 2:13 p.m.

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Hospitals "Implore" Weld County To Reconsider Its "Safer-at-Work" Plan

Area healthcare providers are the latest to push back against Weld County commissioners’ message to businesses to reopen “whenever they feel comfortable.”  

In a letter dated Saturday, representatives for Banner Health, UC Health, Sunrise Community Health and Salud Family Health Centers said the number of deaths “would be tragic” if the county reopened too soon; adding that it would likely overwhelm their hospitals.

“The impact to our economy now is real and destructive,” the healthcare providers wrote. “We can rebuild businesses - we cannot replace lives that are lost.”

The county did release best practices for how businesses should operate," including limiting the number of people allowed inside and performing routine cleanings. 

Governor Jared Polis said counties that don’t fall in line with the state’s “Safer-at-Home” plan, which slowly begins reopening the state while still limiting many businesses, could lose state emergency preparedness grants, according to the Denver Post. Businesses could also lose their licenses.

As of Sunday morning, Weld County has more than 1,400 confirmed cases and 78 deaths, making it the third-highest in the state on both counts.

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Greeley Shows Support for Governor’s “Safer-At-Home” Plan, Despite Weld County Pushback

As Weld County officials challenge Governor Polis’ continued restrictions for certain businesses under the Safer-at-Home plan, the county’s largest city, Greeley, released a statement Friday reaffirming its support of the state’s plan. 

As of Sunday morning, Weld has more than 1,400 confirmed cases and 78 deaths, making it the third highest in the state on both counts. 

Greeley Mayor John Gates pointed to the high case numbers and medical expertise when asking citizens to follow the state’s guidance too. 

“This approach protects lives, flattens the curve, and is a step in the right direction for getting our community back to a fully operational economy,” he said in the statement.

City facilities, including playgrounds, skateparks, restrooms, drinking fountains, and group sport athletic fields, will remain closed through June 2. 

On Friday, Weld County leaders told businesses to reopen "whenever they feel comfortable" after Colorado's stay-at-home order expires. They also released health and safety guidelines for doing so.

"We've made a decision to not pick winners and losers," Commissioner Mike Freeman told KUNC. "We're saying that if you follow these guidelines, then open your business, and if you're a consumer and you feel safe going into a store, go ahead."

Despite these statements, Freeman told the Greeley Tribune Friday that claims the county was opening businesses were “completely off base,” instead insisting that “Weld County Government is not opening any businesses, just as Weld County Government did not close any businesses.”

 

Meanwhile, state testing at Island Grove Park in Greeley continues through Tuesday. Residents do not need a doctor's note to get tested.

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Greeley Stampede Postponed Due To COVID-19

This summer's Greeley Stampede has been postponed due to concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a statement, the event's organizers said the decision was made based on direction from the local health department. 

A future date for the 99th annual event has yet to be determined. Ticket holders can receive a refund or a credit for the rescheduled event. 

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Denver, Jefferson and Boulder Counties Extend Stay-At-Home Order To May 8

The city and county of Denver, Jefferson County and Boulder County have extended their stay-at-home orders until May 8.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the decision at a press conference Friday. The curve is flattening he said, but new infection, hospitalization and mortality rates suggest Denver is not completely out of the woods yet.

"So we need a little more time to scale up our testing and tracing capacity and to provide our residents and businesses the kind of specific guidance they're asking for," Hancock continued.

Additional guidelines will be shared when they are available, he said. Denver also plans to train staff on contract tracing and increase testing capacity to one-thousand tests a day in the upcoming weeks.

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Weld County Suggests Businesses Open 'Whenever They Feel Comfortable'

Colorado's stay-at-home order expires this weekend. Now, local governments are stepping in with localized guidance for their businesses. Weld County's message: Open when you're comfortable.

The county has released best practices for store and restaurant owners such as maintaining physical distance between employees and customers, cleaning surfaces and washing hands at work.

In a statement Friday, Weld commissioners suggested they won't be restricting the types of businesses that can reopen starting Monday, saying "what we aren't going to do is pick winners and losers as to who get to restart their livelihoods."

The county's strategy contradicts the state's "safer-at-home" message, which suggests restaurants and bars should stay closed until at least mid-May.

A spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis says counties can relax guidelines more than the state. Governments just need to demonstrate proof of 14 consecutive days of decline of infection of COVID-19 in the county.

Weld does not meet that threshold.

Counties that are out of compliance are in jeopardy of losing state emergency preparedness grants, according to the spokesman.

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Updates from earlier this week:

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Weld County Gives Green Light For Greeley Beef Plant To Reopen

Weld County public health officials are giving a Greeley meatpacking company hard hit by COVID-19 the green light to reopen on Friday.

JBS USA's beef plant has been closed since April 10 when dozens of COVID-19 cases appeared to be linked to the facility that employs more than 3,000 people.

In a statement Thursday, the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment says the company is taking enough precautions to safely reopen.

Under pressure from Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Jared Polis, JBS originally pledged to test all of its beef plant employees for coronavirus, but canceled those plans within days.

Now, public health officials say employees will undergo a screening before entering the plant, and if they have a fever, cough or shortness of breath, they will receive a test on site. That will take place for the first five days the plant is reopen. The testing site will be staffed by Weld County public health employees.

The union that represents JBS workers had called for mass testing of employees before returning to the plant.

The reopening criteria agreed to by Weld County and JBS include a promise for the company to "share key messages with JBS employees," but does not elaborate on what those messages might be.

The agreement also requires JBS to provide face masks to workers throughout their shifts, and to provide adequate hand sanitizer at stations in the facility.

More than 100 JBS workers in Colorado have tested positive for COVID-19. Four workers have died.

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COVID-19 Spreading At Smaller Meatpackers In Colorado, Too

Outbreaks of COVID-19 are affecting some of Colorado's largest meatpacking companies. New state data show it's also showing up in smaller processing facilities.

In Henderson, a bison slaughter plant owned by Rocky Mountain Natural Meats has 16 confirmed cases. Several employees there have been hospitalized. The company's plant in Brush has not seen confirmed cases. In Weld County, Mountain States Rosen's lamb facility has three cases.

The lamb plant is across the street from JBS USA's Greeley beef processing facility, which has been a hot spot of COVID-19 cases for weeks. The JBS plant has been shuttered since April 10. It's slated to reopen Friday, April 24. More than 100 cases and four deaths have been linked to the facility.

The coronavirus has spread quickly through the state's meatpacking workforce. Employees are often standing in close quarters for hours while they cut meat, and the industry was deemed essential, meaning the work kept going as the disease spread.

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University of Northern Colorado Institutes Executive Paycuts

The University of Northern Colorado is cutting executive pay due to the coronavirus pandemic. President Andy Feinstein, all five vice presidents and the athletic director will all take a 10% reduction in salary.

Feinstein announced the cost-saving measure during a Board of Trustees meeting this week. The university estimates it will lose about $4.5 million this fiscal year. Cnd current projections suggest an additional $18.5 million shortfall next year.

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Almost 70,000 New Unemployment Claims Filed In Colorado Last Week

Colorado continues to see a flood of workers filing new unemployment claims. The state’s labor department says nearly 70,000 new claims were filed in the last week, bringing the total since the start of coronavirus-related lockdowns to nearly 300,000.

Food services, retail and healthcare saw the greatest number of workers filing for benefits. The state says it’s also begun including an additional $600 a week of federal assistance in payments.

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County Offering Fort Collins, Loveland Residents Free COVID-19 Tests

The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment will offer free COVID-19 testing to residents starting Friday. The testing is first-come-first-served and participants must register online.

Participants must also be symptomatic, meaning running a fever or coughing to receive a test. No doctor's order is needed.

Katie O'Donnell, a spokeswoman with the department, says testing supplies are still hard to come by.

"We know it's not where we want to be but we're excited to be able to offer this to our community," she said. "It's long overdue."

Larimer County got this first batch of 500 COVID-19 tests from the state this week. Staff have requested thousands more, but it's unclear if or when that delivery will come through.

To register, go to this website and fill out the form.

Larimer County has at least 260 confirmed cases of the disease, but the actual number is likely higher due to scarce testing supplies.

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Northern Colorado Music Festivals Canceled This Summer

greeley_blues_jam_2018.jpg
Credit City of Greeley
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City of Greeley
The Greeley Blues Jam in 2018.

Parts of Colorado will start to reopen next week, but two summer music events in Northern Colorado have been cancelled.

The Greeley Blues Jam and Fort Collins’ Bohemian Nights at New West Fest are the latest large-scale events to cancel over public health concerns around the coronavirus.

More than 4,000 people attended last year’s blues jam and over 100,000 people are estimated to attend New West Fest each year.

The three-day music festival takes over much of Fort Collins’ downtown.

In a written statement, officials with the Bohemian Foundation, which puts on the free festival, said "too much is unknown to continue to prepare for this event."

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Polis Will Lift Stay-At-Home Order On April 27

Gov. Jared Polis will lift Colorado's stay at home order on April 27, because social distancing efforts have successfully slowed the spread of the coronavirus.

Polis says residents will soon be able to get haircuts and dental procedures, but businesses will have to take precautions. And residents are advised to wear masks in public and practice social distancing.

"It's a time for calculated risks. It's a time to be careful. It's a time to be safer at home when you can, but be able to live in a sustainable and fulfilling way. Psychologically. Emotionally, economically, putting bread on your table, as we prepare for the long haul," he said.

Polis doesn't think restaurants will be allowed to reopen until mid-May at the earliest. Still, he says a declining number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is allowing him to lift some restrictions, which he'll outline further in the coming days.

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CDPHE: Social Distancing Required Until Testing Becomes Widely Available

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says some degree of social distancing will need to be in place for months to ensure that the state’s health care capacity is not exceeded.

"And until we have testing supplies available wide enough that we have a chance to detect the cases and have an epidemiology response, we’re just going to have to maintain social distancing," said Jill Ryan, the department's executive director.

The CDPHE projects current social distancing adherence is at close to 80% – and that between 65,000 and 75,000 Coloradans have, or have had, COVID-19, whether they knew it or not. The state’s stay-at-home order remains in effect through April 26.

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Emergency Shelter Opens At Denver Coliseum

An emergency shelter opened Monday at the Denver Coliseum to help ease the strain on existing shelters in Denver during the coronavirus pandemic. The space will house up to 300 women and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness, with social distancing of at least 60 square feet per guest.

Shelter guests will be screened for signs of illness. They will have access to healthcare services and meals.

Existing women's shelters in Denver will close or reduce capacity, sending guests to the new auxiliary shelter. A day shelter established by the city at the Glenarm Rec Center also closed as of Monday afternoon.

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colorado_dol_pandemic_unemployment.jpg
Credit Jackie Hai / KUNC
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KUNC

Colorado Starts Processing Expanded Unemployment Claims

Gig workers and independent contractors can now apply for state unemployment benefits under the federal CARES Act.

Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said his department is ready to process thousands of these new claims starting Monday.

"We know our systems are stressed. We have put every available resource for meeting the incredibly increasing need to provide support to those Coloradans who need assistance during this pandemic," he said.

Barela said the CARES Act will provide states with the extra money needed to take on this additional burden. Colorado has seen a record number of people filing claims amid COVID-19 related business closures.

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City Of Boulder Begins Employee Furloughs

The city of Boulder is furloughing hundreds of government workers starting Monday. That's because the city's tax base has taken a big hit from COVID-19 related business closures.

The group includes more than 700 full-time administrative jobs and seasonal workers, like lifeguards. It represents nearly 30% of the local government's entire workforce. City spokesman Patrick von Keyserling said it won't affect any essential services like police and firefighters.

"It just was at the point where we couldn't be paying people to stay at home if they couldn't work remotely," he said.

Von Keyserling said the city will continue to pay affected employees' health care benefits during the furlough.

Boulder is just one of several local governments facing declining tax revenues amid the pandemic. Aurora, Broomfield and Loveland have also announced worker furloughs that will start later this week.

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