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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: Fort Collins Residents Required By Law To Wear Masks In Public

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Matt Bloom/KUNC
Larimer County health officials wear masks on a tour of The Ranch Events Complex.

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 Saturday, 5/2/2020 at 2:55 p.m.

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Fort Collins Residents Required By Law To Wear Face Masks In Public

Fort Collins residents must wear face masks in most public settings starting on Monday. 

A new emergency rule applies to anyone visiting retail stores, city facilities or riding public transportation. Homemade cloth masks or bandanas count toward the requirement. 

Violators could be ticketed and charged with a misdemeanor crime, according to the new law.

Other communities along the Front Range are taking similar steps to control the spread of COVID-19. Denver will also require residents to wear masks in public starting on Wednesday. 

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Colorado Leads Nation In Number Of Meatpacking Employee Deaths

Colorado leads the nation in the number of meatpacking workers who've died from COVID-19, according to a new analysis from the CDC. At least five meatpacking employees in Colorado have died so far, the highest of any of the 19 states the health agency studied.

The deaths have come from two facilities: JBS USA's Greeley beef plant and Cargill's Fort Morgan beef plant.

The food processing industry has been particularly hard hit by coronavirus. Nearly 5,000 workers have been diagnosed with the disease nationwide. More than 150 plants that produce beef, pork and poultry have reported outbreaks.

The CDC is also recommending a series of measures companies can take to contain their outbreaks. The health agency says companies should slow production to make social distancing easier, and commit to strict sanitation regimens.

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Credit Rae Ellen Bichell / KUNC
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KUNC

Colorado Aims To Ramp Up Testing To 5,000 Per Day By End Of May

Gov. Jared Polis says it will soon be easier for residents to get tested for COVID-19.

The state is currently testing about 3,000 people per day, but Polis says the goal is to test at least 5,000 per day by the end of May. To do that, he says supplies are being sent to dozens of new community testing sites statewide. He also says results are now available within 24 hours.

"It's incredibly important because the sooner we can get back test results, the sooner we can activate the tracing and isolation," Polis said.

Ramping up testing will be important during the so-called "safer-at-home" phase when more people are returning to work. Polis says the state is also starting to test more workers without symptoms at nursing homes to prevent outbreaks in those facilities.

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Frontier Airlines Requiring Passengers To Wear Masks

Frontier Airlines will require passengers to wear masks during flights in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The policy goes into effect on May 8.

The airline will also leave every other row vacant in the coming month to create social distancing. Passengers with the airline are already required to acknowledge the day they fly that neither they nor anyone in their household has had COVID-19 symptoms in the last 14 days.

Other airlines are implementing similar measures. United Airlines said it will soon make masks available to customers.

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Statewide Drum Circle Planned For Thursday Night

A statewide event Thursday night will feature drumming in solidarity during this time of social distancing. The Colorado Drums Forward campaign asks residents to use whatever they have at home — including cans, buckets and boxes — to create makeshift drums to play at 7 p.m.

Similar to the nightly howls, the event uses the concept of a "drum circle" to allow individuals to non-verbally communicate with family and neighbors.

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

City Of Boulder Now Requires Face Masks In All Public Establishments

Boulder city council has approved a resolution requiring everyone entering any public establishment to wear a face covering.

Other cities are considering similar actions, but are waiting for guidance from the county level. Boulder County public health spokesperson Chana Goussetis said officials from several counties are discussing a coordinated regional requirement.

"There's conversations with law enforcement about what can and can't be done. And nor do we want to be enforcers, that's not our job in public health. But we have to balance that with the community telling us that people aren't following the instructions," Goussetis said.

An announcement could come as early as Friday. Face coverings could be required at trailheads and parks in addition to indoor areas. Larimer County is considering similar measures.

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Previous updates from this week:

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Outbreak Grows At Sterling Correctional Facility

Around 10% of inmates at Sterling Correctional Facility, a large prison in northeastern Colorado, have now tested positive for COVID-19 according to new state data.

At least 11 staff and 241 inmates have tested positive for the illness. That’s one of the highest numbers of infected people at any one facility in Colorado, according to state records.

Kim White’s son Dustin, who she says has a neurological disorder, is an inmate. He called her on Monday with news. White says her son was moved to a unit with other positive cases and has since developed pain while breathing and lost his sense of smell and taste. According to the department of corrections, inmates have been confined to their cells since mid-April and are required to wear face covering at all times.

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Fort Morgan Cheese Plant To Reopen After Testing Finds 80 COVID-19 Cases Among Staff

State data shows 80 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among the 390 employees of Leprino Foods cheese plant in Fort Morgan.

The dairy giant chose to temporarily shut down the plant on Sunday, citing a high number of cases. It began testing its workers the week before and finished testing them all on Monday.

The company also says about half of the plant's positive cases did not show symptoms.

Leprino is keeping all of the workers who tested positive home until medically cleared. It says it will provide supplemental pay to all employees who can't work due to COVID-19 .

The plant will begin reopening this weekend. A handful of tests were "indeterminate" and the company will retest those people this week.

State data also shows 24 confirmed positive cases at the company's Greely plant, which employs more than 500 people. Unlike Fort Morgan, not all of the Greeley employees will be tested due to what the company says is a low incidence rate. Only those who are determined to be at-risk based on contact tracing will be tested, at least for the time being.

Targeted testing is ongoing at both facilities, along with social distance, cleaning, temperature check, and personal protective equipment protocols that have been in place since March. Leprino is also keeping all of both plant's older, at-risk employees home with pay.

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Credit Matt Bloom / KUNC
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KUNC
A sign outside of The Bar. Ber. Shop in Greeley welcomed customers on Monday.

Polis Warns Restrictions May Return If Coronavirus Cases Spike Again

Colorado is no longer under a statewide stay-at-home order, but Gov. Jared Polis is warning residents he might have to bring back restrictions if they are not careful and coronavirus cases spike again.

Polis said he hopes he can continue to lift restrictions and allow restaurants to open soon. But he said if people "slack off" and stop wearing masks in public, that may not happen.

"We're going to be watching the data every single day, and if the numbers begin to climb at an unsustainable rate, then we're likely to have to go backwards instead of forward," Polis said.

He said residents should continue practicing social distancing during the so-called "safer at home" period. Meanwhile, retail stores will be allowed to reopen Friday if they take precautions, like requiring employees to wear masks.

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Previous updates from this week:

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Sterling Correctional Facility Grapples With Outbreak

A large prison in northeastern Colorado is experiencing an outbreak of the coronavirus. According to state data, out of the nearly 2,500 inmates at Sterling Correctional Facility, 138 tested positive for COVID-19 last week, up from just eight a few days prior. Two staff members have also tested positive and have not worked in the facility since.

Coronavirus cases exist at facilities in both Weld and Arapahoe Counties, but this is the largest reported outbreak at a jail or prison in the state, by far.

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Credit Jada Lee
Justin Lee's wife says he has tested positive for COVID-19 while serving a 12-month sentence at the Sterling Correctional Facility.

Jada Lee's husband Justin, an inmate at Sterling, has been sending her letters during the pandemic because access to the shared phones has been restricted. But on Monday, Lee said she got a phone call from him. Justin was allowed to call because, she said, he tested positive for COVID-19.

"I didn't even recognize him," she said. "(He had) a really raspy voice... He said that he was feeling really achy, not being able to breathe. He hasn't been throwing up but he hasn't been able to hold food down so he hasn't been eating."

Read more: 'I Don't Want To Die In Prison,' Writes One Inmate During Colorado Outbreak →

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Survey: Majority Of Coloradans Support Stay-At-Home Measures

Preliminary results from a statewide survey on coronavirus show a majority of Coloradans support continuing stay-at-home measures. Economic considerations take a back seat to concerns about risking public health in nearly two-thirds of those surveyed.

Healthier Colorado is part of a group that commissioned the survey. Executive director Jake Williams said those who have lost jobs or income because of the pandemic are more likely to support tighter restrictions.

"These are people who have already lost a lot. Yet they believe that for the sake of people's health, we should be cautious about rushing back to work," Williams said.

Nearly half of respondents reported loss of household income because of the pandemic. Young people and low-income households bear the brunt of those losses.

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Leprino Foods Plant In Fort Morgan Closes After 'High Number' Of COVID-19 Cases Confirmed

A cheese plant in Fort Morgan closed on Sunday after a "high number" of employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The plant, which is operated by cheese giant Leprino Foods, will stay closed for at least five days. The company chose to close it after they started "proactively" testing employees on April 19 with the help of the Northeast Colorado Health Department.

"We are prioritizing the health and safety of our employees," said director of communications Kim DeVigil. 

The company plans to finish testing all 350 employees on Monday but did not share exactly how many have been confirmed positive at this point. Employees who would otherwise be working during the closure will continue to get paid.

As of Monday morning, Morgan County has 259 confirmed cases and 13 deaths.

In March, Leprino implemented regular temperature checks, social distancing, suplemental pay for  workers who take time off due to the virus and more requirements for personal protective equipment. It also plans to pay older, at-risk employees without having them to come to work after the plant reopens. The company will do a "deep cleaning" of the entire plant during the shutdown.

Note: This story was updated to clarify the fact that Leprino Foods chose to shut down the plant of its own volition and that certian health and safety measures were already in place.

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Updates from the weekend:

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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 Gov. 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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