COVID-19 in Colorado

Colorado urges cancellation of events of 50 people or more; no sit-down service for restaurants, bars

Confirmed cases in Colorado climb to 160; gyms, theaters, casinos close for a month

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The wave of closings and cancellations in response to COVID-19 continued to grow in Colorado as the state lowered the maximum number of people that should gather in one place to 50. The next day, March 16, the City of Denver — and then the state itself — ordered restaurants and bars to stop sit-down service.

“To best protect public health, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is recommending that Coloradans follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance released today,” the department said in a news release.

That guidance says for the next eight weeks, organizers should cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.

Colorado's total climbed to 160 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by a widespread coronavirus — and 20 were hospitalized as of March 16. More than 1,200 people had been tested at the state lab.

In the metro area, many cases were confirmed across Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties. Gov. Jared Polis said last week the state was “likely on the verge of a tipping point where we will see more community spread” of the virus.

Community spread can mean cases and outbreaks in areas where people became infected and the source is unknown. When it's more widespread, it means cases and outbreaks in many communities where the virus is spread between people.

While the state government generally has stopped short of issuing a ban on large gatherings — instead sticking to giving “recommendations” — the City of Denver on March 16 ordered that all events of 50 people or more must be canceled or postponed for eight weeks.

Crowds that are part of normal operation at transit stations, shopping areas, medical facilities and similar spaces are exempt. The order does not apply to religious gatherings.

The order from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment also required that bars and restaurants may not serve food for sit-down consumption. Carry-out, drive-thru and delivery are still allowed, but people in waiting lines for carry-out must stay 6 feet away from each other when possible.

Dining spaces in medical facilities and nursing or assisted living facilities, or similar buildings, are exempt — as are airport concessionaires.

Later that day, the state ordered bars and restaurants to stop dine-in service for 30 days. Delivery, take-out and drive-thru will still be available. Theaters — including movie and performance venues and concert halls — along with casinos and gyms are ordered to close under the same action. The time frame of the order can be extended.

Those businesses, if offering food or beverages, can allow up to
five people inside at a time to pick up their orders as long as customers are at least 6 feet apart from one another, the state's order says.

Airport food courts are exempt from the closures.

Testing on move

The state's first community testing center for COVID-19 opened March 11, and it's now planned to move to locations throughout Colorado.

After moving from its drive-up location in Denver's Lowry neighborhood and reopening days later at the Denver Coliseum, the testing operation was to reopen in locations throughout the state — first focusing on Colorado's mountain communities, which have seen some of the most rapid spread of COVID-19 in the state.

The Telluride area and Routt County are among the first targets for the test site this week, and after that, the state will identify its next location.

On March 17, the state will open a testing site outside Telluride that will serve about 100 high-risk patients who were pre-selected by health care providers as a priority, a state news release said. The site will not accept walk-up or drive-up patients. 

Coloradans can see upcoming locations, when they're decided, at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's website. The public can call 303-389-1687 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org for questions about the criteria to qualify for COVID-19 testing.

Private labs can do testing in Colorado as well, so Coloradans should call their doctors to see which option is best.

The criteria are meant to help health care providers decide whether to recommend testing, but people can still be tested as long as they have a doctor's order for it, state officials said March 16.

The state Public Health Department is also sending testing kits to other mountain counties to increase testing capacity, the release said. The department received more testing kits from the CDC this week, which are being distributed around the state.

More nursing power

Colorado welcomed 50 nurses dedicated to helping with the state's COVID-19 response, the state announced March 16.

These nurses, from the Freedom Health Care Staffing Company, will initially staff testing sites and health care facilities. This effort was made possible by a portion of the money from the Disaster Emergency Fund that was directed by Polis' March 11 executive order.

Polis also announced executive action last week to cut “through red tape” so that medical professionals who are licensed in other states but reside in Colorado can practice medicine here to address the strain on the state's health care system.

The state Department of Public Health has also authorized every paramedic and emergency medical technician, or EMT, in the state to be able to administer the COVID-19 test.

Nursing, assisted living facilities

The state restricted all visitors at skilled nursing, assisted living and intermediate care facilities, a news release March 14 announced.

The order requires these facilities to offer virtual communication tools to allow residents to speak to people who would have visited them; to provide staff to assist residents with those tools; to document symptom screening for all individuals who enter the building; and, if the facility has a positive or suspected positive case of COVID-19, the facility will keep visitation records to prevent exposure to other residents.

People who are older or have underlying chronic health conditions are at higher risk of becoming very sick or dying from COVID-19.

“It is important to note that at this time there have not been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in these Colorado facilities,” Randy Kuykendall, a division director with the state Public Health Department, said in a news release. The order “is an important step to continue to protect the health and well-being of this vulnerable population.” 

Mountain, ski areas

Due to extensive spread of COVID-19 in mountain resort areas, the department “strongly recommends” that anyone who lives in or has visited those communities in the past week minimize contact with other people, a news release said March 15.

That applies to Eagle, Summit, Pitkin, and Gunnison counties, whether or not people are experiencing symptoms.

Those with symptoms — cough, fever, and shortness of breath — must be isolated for at least seven to 10 days after symptoms began.

“It is only safe to leave isolation if your symptoms are improving and you don't have a fever for 72 hours immediately prior to the end of your isolation,” the release said.

Residents and visitors of those areas are advised to stay home or in a comparable setting as much as possible, work from home or stay at least 6 feet from others, avoid group settings, only go to public spaces for necessities such as groceries and the pharmacy, and continue non-group activities such as walking, hiking, jogging and cycling.

On March 14, Polis issued an executive order directing downhill ski resorts to suspend operations for one week.

School closures, other measures

The governor had already announced rules for K-12 school closures and actions to ensure Coloradans can afford getting tested for COVID-19.

The Colorado Department of Education received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue serving free and reduced meals to students while schools are closed, Polis announced March 16.

On March 16, the state Public Health Department recommended that when school is closed, kids and adults should practice “social distancing” — aim to stay 6 feet away from others as much as possible.

“Do not take children into any social setting when they are sick,” the department said in a news release.

“This is not just about keeping kids safe, which is absolutely important; it's about keeping the whole community safe by limiting and slowing the spread,” Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said in the release.

More assured

Originally, COVID-19 cases were referred to as presumptive positive because initial testing is done at the state level, and results were to be confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. But the CDC confirmed the state no longer needs to wait for confirmation because the test the CDC performs is identical to the state's testing, the state Public Health Department announced.

Colorado listed that test results were completed on about 1,216 people by the state lab since testing started on Feb. 28.

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