Latest Updates: Colorado To Hold Statewide Remembrance Event On Friday
KUNC's newsroom is here to keep you informed with the latest news and updates about the coronavirus in Colorado.
Last updated Friday, 5/15/2020 at 4:07 p.m.
Colorado To Hold Statewide Remembrance Event On Friday
Gov. Jared Polis is asking residents to observe a minute of silence Friday at 7 p.m. to honor the more than 1,000 people in Colorado who have died from COVID-19.
Polis is encouraging residents to wear face masks and reflect on the lives that have been lost during the pandemic.
"Every person we've lost in this horrible pandemic has a story and a community of loved ones in mourning. And it's been tough because for many families they haven't been able to have those funerals those celebrations of life that we'd normally have to honor those who have meant so much to us," Polis said.
Dozens of cities around the state plan to participate in the moment of silence. The state Capitol, Coors Field and several other buildings in downtown Denver will also be lit up with red lights tonight to honor the victims of the coronavirus.
COVID-19 Case Numbers Rise In Colorado Jails And Prisons
Coronavirus cases have sharply increased in jails, prisons, and detention centers across Colorado, according to new state data.
The number of positive tests rose to 750, up 86% from the week before. Four inmates have died.
Sterling Correctional Facility in the northeast, Crowley County Correctional Facility and Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center in Denver are home to the largest outbreaks. Staff have tested positive across multiple facilities as well, but in much lower numbers.
According to the Department of Corrections, the jump is primarily due to a substantial increase in testing, both among symptomatic and asymptomatic offenders.
Polis Meets With President Trump At White House
Gov. Polis met with President Trump on Wednesday at the White House to seek more federal aid and talk about Colorado's response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump praised Polis for starting to reopen Colorado's economy, saying he is doing a "fantastic job."
Polis has been critical of the administration's response to the outbreak, saying it was slow to send testing kits and medical supplies. But he says he accepted the White House invitation because the partnership with the federal government is important.
"We need all hands on deck, setting any ideological beefs aside, to be able to save lives and restore our economy to strength," Polis said.
Polis says he urged the president to extend a federal program that is providing Colorado nursing homes with masks and other protective equipment. He also touted the state's phased approach to reopening and said he hopes some ski areas can reopen next month.
Federal Aid Reaches Rural Hospitals In Colorado
Colorado's healthcare facilities have gotten $288 million in federal aid. A lot of that is going to rural hospitals and clinics to make up for revenue losses.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, rural hospitals were in a tight spot financially. Melissa Bosworth, executive director of Eastern Plains Healthcare Consortium, says COVID-19 caused many of the region's hospitals to lose around 70% of their revenue.
"At the beginning stages of this it was — one of the greatest scares was — are we going to be able to make it into the summer to keep our doors open. Not just, you know, one department but the entire hospital," Bosworth said.
The money from the CARES Act stimulus bill has made a huge difference, she says, but there is concern over a lack of clarity about how it must be used and how much more help hospitals will need if the virus has a resurgence later this year.
Rocky Mountain National Park To Reopen After Memorial Day
The National Park Service says Rocky Mountain will begin a "phased reopening" starting on May 27.
In a statement Tuesday, the NPS said it would gradually increase recreational access and services, including issuing wilderness camping permits and restarting shuttle bus operations within the Bear Lake Road corridor.
The opening will follow "guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local public health authorities," according to the NPS.
Roughly half the campsites at Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds will also reopen on June 4.
"The health and safety of park visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners continues to be paramount," the NPS said. "Park operations and services will be much different this year."
The park, which typically see more than 4 million visitors per year, has been closed to the public since March 21.
Legislature Extends Suspension By Another Week
The Colorado state legislature has extended its COVID-19 pandemic-related suspension by a week. Both chambers are now planning to go back into session on May 26.
In a statement Saturday, Democratic majority leaders said the legislature needs more safety precautions and information about how Congress’ next steps will impact Colorado before state senators and representatives return.
“As businesses across Colorado also begin the process of reopening, this extension allows the General Assembly additional time to double check our safety protocols, continue conversations on appropriate legislation and seek more information about any Congressional action that may be coming in the weeks ahead,” Democratic House Speaker Kathleen Collins Becker said in the statement. “We are hopeful that Congress may provide additional and badly needed aid to help us avoid budget cuts that will devastate our communities.”
Congress is preparing a fifth aid package that Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has called “Rooseveltian,” according to the Associated Press. Per Politico, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aims to include $1 trillion for state and local governments.
The Joint Budget Committee began rewriting the state’s budget last week to reflect the $3.2 billion shortfall the state estimates Coronavirus could cause this and next fiscal year.
Weld County’s Public Health Director To Retire Amid Outbreak
Weld County's top public health official will retire later this month.
In a statement Friday, Dr. Mark Wallace said he made the decision to step down from his role as executive director of the Weld County Department of Public Health & Environment to spend more time with family and focus on his health.
"I am proud of the work I have done here," Wallace said. "The employees at the Health Department have been amazing to work with, and I know the department will continue to do great things for the residents of this county."
The decision comes as the county continues to grapple with multiple COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes and food processing plants.
Wallace's last day will be May 29. Weld County commissioners have not named a successor.
New Opening Dates Announced For COVID-19 Field Hospitals
The state has updated the opening dates of two medical overflow facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. Kevin Klein, director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, says the target opening for the Colorado Convention Center in Denver is June 4. The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland will open June 11.
"So we will be evaluating what we need, but right now that is our target to be able to open it, and I say that with the understanding that if there's no demand, we're not going to be paying to staff it," Klein said.
The state is aiming to have 200 beds available at the Loveland location and 250 beds in Denver. Whether they are used or not, Klein says the state wants to keep the facilities on standby through the fall.
Denver Stay-At-Home Order Set To Expire Saturday
Starting Saturday, offices, retail stores and personal services in Denver can re-open at 50% capacity, as the city's stay-at-home order expires. Mayor Michael Hancock says businesses must have several measures in place to keep the public safe.
"Employees and customers should start to see things like special hours for vulnerable populations, six feet of physical distancing between people, symptom and temperature checks, and frequent disinfecting of common spaces," Hancock said.
Some businesses — like dine-in restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms — will remain closed. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited through May 26. And like other cities and counties, Denver residents are required to wear masks when out in public.
Revenue Losses Delay State Transportation Projects
The state transportation commission held an emergency meeting on Thursday to talk about what road work they might have to put off because of the coronavirus' financial impact.
Colorado started 2020 with plans to build $1.6 billion worth of transportation projects over the next three years. But with gas tax revenue falling and support from the legislature expected to drop, it is working on a plan to spend only a third of that money.
Colorado Department of Transportation director Shoshana Lew calls it the worst case scenario.
"As much as we all want this not to be what we're planning towards we have to take this disciplined approach I think in order to manage our money in a way that minimizes exposure to risk," Lew said.
Lew says projects already underway such as the I-25 North expansion near Fort Collins will continue, but others such as improvements to the Floyd Hill section of I-70 in the mountains west of Denver might be delayed.
Outbreak Impacts Majority Of Colorado Businesses
62% of Colorado businesses expect their actual revenues from 2020 will be at least 25% below projections, according to a recent survey by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The state also has a breakdown of businesses applying for the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
"About 48,000 Colorado businesses received that money, right now well over 90,000 businesses have received $10 to 11 billion," said Betsy Markey, the office's executive director. "There's still a little bit of money left in the second tranche."
Markey added that 98% of Colorado businesses are considered small businesses. And nearly a quarter (23%) of those surveyed anticipate having to lay off more than half of their workforce because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Frontier Airlines Reverses Social Distancing Fee
Frontier Airlines will roll back a policy to charge $39 extra for passengers to lock in an empty middle seat next to them. The Denver-based budget airline received backlash from lawmakers and passengers over the move. Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said the company never intended to profit from safety, it just wanted to provide customers an option for more space.
The chairman of the House Transportation Committee accused Frontier of using the need for social distancing during a virus pandemic "as an opportunity to make a buck."
The airline is requiring passengers to wear facemasks.
Antibody Test Results Show Low Immunity In San Miguel County
San Miguel County in Colorado teamed up with a biotech company to offer a COVID-19 antibody test to all residents who wanted one — and the results are in.
Most of the county — about 5,500 people — got their blood tested. There were some borderline results but, at most, only 2% came back positive.
"So in a lot of ways it's very good news because we haven't had the health impact or devastation that so many people and so many areas have," said Susan Lilly, a spokesperson with the county. "On the other hand, it can be considered bad news if you say, well, gee, we haven't been hit yet."
Scientists say antibody test results can be difficult to interpret, with the possibility for false positives and false negatives. And it's still unclear whether antibodies against COVID-19 mean immunity, and if so, for how long.
State To Launch Residential Care Task Force
Colorado will launch a task force to deal specifically with outbreaks of COVID-19 at residential care facilities. More than 50% of coronavirus related deaths have been among older adults and people with disabilities in high-density, group-living settings, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The COVID-19 Residential Care Task Force will focus on testing efforts, distributing personal protective equipment and issuing guidelines to facilities.
Court Juries Suspended Until July 6
The Colorado Supreme Court is extending state courts' emergency operations through July 6 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Essential court functions, such as restraining orders and measures to protect children, will continue. Judicial proceedings will be held remotely, whenever possible, and jury duty is suspended.
Waivers may be granted allowing trials with juries to go forward on a limited basis.
Home Closings In Denver Are Down 30%
The real estate market in Denver is taking a hit from the coronavirus. The Colorado Association of Realtors recorded a sharp drop in home closings in April. It was down 30 percent year-over-year due to restrictions on in-person home visits. The association also recorded similar declines in the Northern Colorado market.
Under the state’s new safer-at-home rules, realtors can now perform in-person home showings, but only with strict precautions.
Colorado Grocery Stores Limit Meat Purchases
Some grocery stores are limiting the amount of meat customers can buy during a single visit.
For example, Costco shoppers can get up to three items of beef, pork or chicken products, according to the company's website. Sprouts customers can get up to two of each. At King Soopers, purchases are limited to two packs of pork or chicken and three items of beef.
Company representatives say the reasoning for the limits is to balance supply and demand.
More people are eating meat at home. And some meatpackers have had to scale back — or even pause — operations in recent weeks due to COVID-19 outbreaks at their facilities.
The stores say they aren't expecting widespread meat shortages, but display cases may look less stocked than usual.