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Colorado coronavirus blog: March 16-18: Hospitals see marked increase in patients

COVID-19, a new form of coronavirus, is in Colorado. We'll post updates here as we get them.

COLORADO, USA — Cases of COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus, began popping up in the United States in February. On March 5, the first case was announced in Colorado.

Each week, we will post a new blog that will track the daily changes in Denver and throughout Colorado as we get them.

RELATED: FAQs: Answering your questions on the coronavirus in Colorado

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RELATED: Colorado COVID-19 cases, March 16-18


  • Governor Polis extended the closures of public and private schools to April 17. The governor also announced that he would extend the suspension of downhill ski area operations through April 6.
  • Colorado launched the Help Colorado Now effort where Coloradans can donate or volunteer, as well as the Colorado COVID Relief Fund, which has already raised nearly $3 million to help Coloradans impacted by the coronavirus
  • San Miguel County has ordered residents to "shelter-in-place" and has enacted new widespread testing measures. 


Governor extends closures of public and private schools to April 17 

Governor Polis signed an executive order suspending in-person learning in public and private schools across the state from March 23 to April 17. The executive order directs Colorado school districts and the Charter School Institute to make every effort to provide alternative learning opportunities during this time while taking into account the needs of local communities. 

The order also directs the Commissioner of Education to issue guidance to support P-12 school systems in developing and implementing plans to assist families and students in accessing alternative learning, providing free and reduced lunch and breakfast, and offering waivers for instructional time as appropriate. Click here to read.

“Protecting the health of all Coloradoans is our top priority, and moving to online learning and other ways to support learning at home is absolutely the right thing to do,” said Education Commissioner Katy Anthes. “We know school leaders, educators and families will have a lot of questions about how to support their students’ learning at home during this unprecedented time. The department is working on guidance and developing resources to support our schools and students, and it will be available very soon.”

City of Aurora declares a state of disaster

The city of Aurora declared a state of disaster in response to COVID-19. The city has determined that declaring this state of disaster for Aurora is necessary for the preservation and protection of the public health, safety and welfare of its residents. This disaster declaration allows for the city to act quickly in case action is warranted.

City leadership made the decision to close many city facilities such as libraries and recreation centers, beginning March 14 as well the cancelation of all city-organized events until April 30, or further notice.

San Miguel County orders residents to shelter-in-place, expands testing 

San Miguel County has asked residents to shelter-in-place and has prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people. 

Visitors to the county will be directed to return home immediately, according to a bulletin posted on the county's website.

Violators could face criminal action. 

The county is also partnering with a private firm to test residents for COVID-19 following what it said was an uptick in hospital visits -- particularly with young children.  

Colorado hospitals see 'marked increase' in respiratory illness patients

The Colorado Hospital Association (CHA) issued a statement saying that although the state's data currently reports 20 hospitalizations, "our hospitals report having many more hospitalized patients who are likely COVID-19 positive but are still awaiting test results."

CHA said Colorado hospitals have moved from a mitigation response to a surge response. This means that hospitals have seen a marked increase in the number of patients presenting with respiratory illness who need hospitalization and further testing. 

Those hospitals are putting specific plans in place, which will include steps to address three key components – supplies, staff and space. Their work includes:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) conservation.
  • Postponing elective procedures.
  • Expanding/ refashioning facilities to create additional critical care beds or negative pressure rooms.
  • Securing alternative discharge options so that patients who no longer need acute hospitalization can be moved out of the hospital.
  • Increasing staffing.

"As the spread of COVID-19 continues, we anticipate that more Colorado hospitals will transition to surge response and will be making these types of changes," CHA said.

 CHA said people with mild symptoms should first talk with a primary care provider and seek testing at a community testing site – not at the hospital ER. This helps hospitals preserve precious resources like PPE, staff and testing kits for those patients who may have severe illness.

Pepsi Center worker tests positive

Legends, the food and beverage services provider for Pepsi Center, announced one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a news release sent by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE), who owns Pepsi Center, the Denver Department of Public & Health Environment (DDPHE) notified Legends Tuesday of the positive test result. Legends then notified KSE.

Legends said the employee last worked at Pepsi Center on March 11. The Avalanche played the New York Rangers that night.

The Legends employee worked in the back-of-the-house area, according to the news release. It states that the job the person was working does not require direct customer interaction.

3 Colorado malls closing until March 29 

Simon Property Group has announced it will close all of its retail properties nationwide, including three malls in Colorado, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Simon's properties include the Colorado Mills in Lakewood, Denver Premium Outlets in Thornton and Denver West Village in Lakewood. They will close at 7 p.m. on Wednesday lasting through March 29. 

"The health and safety of our shoppers, retailers and employees is of paramount importance and we are taking this step to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities," said David Simon, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Simon.

CU Denver student tests positive

A University of Colorado Denver student has tested positive for COVID-19. The student was last on campus March 9 and has been self-quarantined since that date.   

In a letter to students, CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell wrote: "We've been expecting this first diagnosis and have planned for it. Transmission on campus should be drastically minimized now that we have transitioned to fully remote teaching and learning and restricted access to campus. All buildings are on a regular cleaning and sanitization schedule. Only essential and critical employees are allowed into the buildings, and we have asked even these employees to stay away from campus unless absolutely necessary."

Buckley Air Force Base 

A civilian contractor working on Buckley Air Force Base is currently undergoing evaluation and treatment following a positive COVID-19 test. 

Colonel Devin Pepper, the 460th Space Wing commander, declared a public health emergency on 17 March 2020 for Buckley AFB, limiting duty to mission and service essential personnel. 

The base remains in Health Protection Condition (HPCON) level Bravo to reflect the moderate disease threat posed by COVID-19 and limit the risk of exposure to personnel with additional measures now in effect. 

> More information can be found here.

Polis announces relief fund, childcare options, rent/mortgage info

Polis said the relief will assist people who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Donations can be provided to helpcoloradonow.org.

Polis also said he has established a means for essential workers to continue to receiving childcare on a sliding scale based on income. This information is available at covidchildcarecolorado.com

Polis said his office was looking at options to help people who have lost their income due to COVID-19 pay their rent and mortgages, and that at this point eviction orders will “not be processed as they normally are.”

RELATED: Colorado governor announces relief fund, emergency child care for those impacted by coronavirus

Colorado State Capitol closure

To adhere to social distancing guidelines from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the capitol building will remain closed to the public until further notice.

2020 Denver Cinco de Mayo Festival is canceled

NEWSED has canceled Denver's Cinco de Mayo Festival. The festival has gone on as planned for the past 32 years, until this year. 

"We deeply regret to inform the community that the 2020 Denver Cinco de Mayo Festival will be canceled due to the directive of our city and state officials to cancel any gathering over 50 people for the next 8 weeks," said Andrea Barela, NEWSED President & CEO. "While this situation might be difficult at the moment, the Cinco de Mayo festival’s main mission has always been to “Celebrate Culture” which means our Mexican holidays and traditions will continue. This May 5th celebrate the Battle of Puebla in your own way, in good health and spirit. Thank you to our incredible entertainers, sponsors, staff, vendors, exhibitors, volunteers, and supporters, we look forward to seeing you in May 2021 when we will all celebrate together again." 

TUESDAY, March 17

Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Jason Crow self-quarantined

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R) will self-quarantine after coming into contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Gardner said in a news release that the Tri-County Health Department, which covers  Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, alerted him on Tuesday that he had been in contact with a person who has tested positive.

The person is a Coloradan who visited his office in Washington, D.C.

The senator is not showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

Crow's office also announced that he was alerted by the Tri-County Health Department that he came into contact with a Colorado constituent on March 11t who later tested positive for coronavirus. In the statement, Crow said he was not showing any symptoms of the virus.

CU-Boulder cancels commencement

The university announced the cancellation of the in-person commencement on May 7, as well as all college, school and department-based recognition ceremonies, due to COVID-19. 

CU officials said they are exploring virtual options that will enable our community to celebrate the latest class of CU Boulder graduates remotely, and we will follow up with more information and details as these plans develop. 

Weld County man in his 70s dies

Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment (WCDPHE) said a male in his 70s died from COVID-19, the second death in the state. His death is connected to one of the earlier identified positive cases, WCDPHE said.

Resident of long-term care facility in Larimer County tests positive

The positive test comes less than a week after it was announced a worker there had also tested positive.

Due to the high-risk nature of the virus, a team of infection preventionists and epidemiologists from CDC and CDPHE have been working closely with the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (LCDHE) and providing on-site technical assistance and support regarding case investigation, infection prevention, healthcare worker safety assessments and personal protective equipment.

Case investigation is in process to identify people who have been in close contact with the individuals who tested positive so that public health workers can reach out to those contacts in the next few days. As with any communicable disease, this case investigation will take some time to complete. In order to protect the privacy of the individuals, identifying information and medical records will not be released to the public, LCDHE said in a statement. 

MSU Denver employee tests positive

An MSU Denver employee has tested positive for COVID-19. The employee was last on campus on March 11 and has been self-isolated at home since then. Here's a list of all resources available to the campus community.

Boulder temporarily shifts homeless services location 

The City of Boulder has announced temporary changes to serve community members experiencing homelessness in an effort to reduce COVID-19 social spread 

Coordinated Entry, which is the first step to receiving homeless services in Boulder County, will conduct assessments via phone until further notice. Anyone in need of the service should call 303-579-4404 during the following hours:

  • 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. every day except Tuesday
  • Noon – 4 p.m. on Tuesdays

Path to Home Navigation is a shelter and assistance program that addresses short-term homeless resolutions. That program requires a referral from Coordinated Entry.  

As of March 16, both Coordinated Entry and Path to Home Navigation were relocated from 30th Street to the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless in north Boulder.

"Consolidating these services at one location will decrease risk of infection, and infection and increase efficient use of services and available shelter beds," a release from the city says.

Morgan County Jail suspends inmate visitations

The initial suspension will be for a minimum of 30 days, but the order is fluid and may be extended at any time.

All inmates will receive two free 15-minute phone calls each week during the suspension.

Colorado Department of Education (CDE) pauses 2019-20 state assessments, accountability

End-of-the-year assessments for students, including the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), will be paused for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year due to extensive school closures throughout Colorado to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes announced.

“Students and educators need to feel a sense of stability and normalcy before state tests can be administered and produce valid results. This also means we plan to pause our school and district state accountability system as it relates to state assessments for a year,” she said.

CDE is working with The College Board to generate possible solutions for the administration of the PSAT and SAT tests, which offer unique roles in Colorado’s system in terms of scholarships and college entrance. CDE will provide more information on that as it's available.

CDE plans to work with the U.S. Dept. of Education to address implications, including those related to federal accountability, and will complete waiver documentation as needed.

The department will continue working with schools and districts that are already identified for improvement to help support instruction, including options for instruction during and after school closures.

CDE has compiled resources about Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) for schools and districts on its website.

> Click/tap here to read those resources.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) waives change fees

CPW announced that it will waive fees for changing and/or canceling camping reservations until further notice. Guests should call the reservations call center at 800-244-5613 or the park where they had a reservation and note they are canceling due to COVID-19.

Waterton Canyon access closed starting March 18

Waterton Canyon, an area popular to hikers, bikers and horseback riders, will be closed to the public starting March 18, 2020. Denver Water said there is no current timeline on when the canyon will reopen to the public. 

Waterton Canyon is a popular recreation destination and we recognize the closure will create inconveniences,” said Brandon Ransom, manager of recreation for Denver Water. “Closing the canyon will help ensure employee and public safety.”

Political conventions

Governor Polis signed an executive order and House Bill 20-1359 (HB20-1359) administratively which allows for Colorado’s political parties to amend certain rules and procedures governing the conduct of their assemblies and conventions and to limit in-person contact during nominating assemblies and conventions. 

The bill, which operates in conjunction with the executive order, allows for the parties to provide for remote participation in nominating assemblies and conventions. 

It also allows delegates to vote by email, mail, telephone or app, allows an individual who is physically present to carry up to five proxies, and allows the party to reduce the number of participants required for quorum.

The executive order directs the Secretary of State to issue emergency rules to allow eligible voters to safely participate in the primary election.

Vail Resorts closure

Vail resorts announced Tuesday that all its North American ski resorts and retail stores will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 winter ski season.

The company said previously those places would be closed between March 15 and March 22. Vail Resorts said it would consider reopening Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado, Heavenly Mountain Resort in Lake Tahoe and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia in late April/early May, dependent on the situation with COVID-19 as well as weather conditions. 

Lodging properties owned and operated by Vail Resorts will close on Friday, March 20, with final check-ins allowed until 4 p.m. (local time) Tuesday.

Epic Mountain Express, the company’s Colorado transportation service, will run through Wednesday, March 18 and will remain closed until further notice after that.

Guests can process refunds and credits on pre-purchased lift tickets, lodging, ski and ride school, equipment rentals and more, subject to applicable terms and conditions, using an online form that will be available at some point Tuesday on the company’s resort websites.

MONDAY, March 16

CDPHE reports 29 new cases

Colorado's health department reported 29 additional positive cases of COVID-19 on Monday, which brings the state's total number of positive cases to 160. The state lab has tested 1,216 people since testing began Feb. 28. Because of the high volume of tests and a need to release information quickly, the health department did not break down which counties the new cases were located in. 

Larimer County long-term health care facility employee tests presumptive positive for COVID-19

Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (LCDHE) has identified a connection from its first COVID-19 case to an employee of a long-term care facility. The healthcare worker that was positive for COVID-19 was an employee at the North Shore Health & Rehab Facility in Loveland. While local public health agencies typically don’t release names of facilities, Columbine Health Systems has volunteered to share that information with the public. Columbine Health Systems operates facilities in both Larimer and Weld counties. The case investigation is ongoing, but to date, there are no cases associated with residents of this facility.

CDPHE adds more nurses, testing sites

Colorado's health department said it added 50 nurses to help with the state’s COVID-19 response. The nurses are from the Freedom Health Care Staffing Company and are trained in providing care in crisis situations. They will initially staff testing sites and health care facilities. 

On Tuesday, CDPHE will open a testing site outside Telluride in partnership with San Miguel County. This testing site will serve about 100 high-risk patients who have been pre-selected by area health care providers as a priority for being tested. The site will not accept walk-up or drive-up patients.

CDPHE is also sending testing kits to other mountain counties to increase testing capacity. CDPHE requested and received additional testing kits from the CDC this week, and these are the resources being distributed statewide.

Testing capacity

Because Colorado now has the capacity for private labs to conduct testing, CDPHE encourages anyone who has symptoms or believes they may have been exposed to COVID-19 to contact their physician first for guidance, obtain a doctor’s order for testing, and request information about private providers where people can get tested. Always call first before reporting to a health care facility for testing.

Any medical provider with a relationship with LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics can test, but be sure to call your provider ahead of time. Many providers have centralized sites for testing due to safety precautions

Statement from casinos

Penn National Gaming, which has 41 properties and casinos in 19 states, said it is working "proactively to help protect the health and well-being of our customers and team members during this uncertain time." 

As of Monday, Penn National Gaming said the number of chairs are being reduced at dining facilities, table games and poker rooms, as well as the number of slot machines in play at any one time. Buffets have also been closed. Facilities will be closed for deep cleaning for a minimum of 2 hours per day. Self-serve utensils and condiments at all food court outlets have been removed, and all concerts, live events, slot and table game tournaments and drawings have been postponed or canceled.

Loveland Ski Area closes for season

"In order to keep all our guests and employees safe and healthy, we have made the incredibly difficult decision to close for the 2019/20 season. This has not been easy for anyone, but it is the best way we can help stop the spread of COVID-19. We understand that there will be some frustration regarding our decision, but we feel strongly that this is best for everyone," the ski area said.  

Scheduled seasonal Loveland Ski Area employees will get up to three weeks of compensation beyond what has already been worked in addition to a seasonal bonus. Many employees will also have the opportunity to work additional hours in the coming weeks. All employees will be off this week and compensated during this closure.

Any date-specific products (lift tickets, rental packages, lessons) will be fully refunded. 2019/20 4-Pak tickets will be valid for the entire 2020/21 season.

CDPHE recommendations for parents

With temporary school closures in place, state public health officials have issued recommendations for parents and guardians. They said children and adults should practice social distancing by staying 6 feet away from others as much as possible and to not take children into any social setting when they are sick. Children are thought to be at lower risk for severe COVID-19, but can easily spread it to others.

"This is not just about keeping kids safe, which is absolutely important; it's also about keeping the whole community safe by limiting and slowing the spread," said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Mountain community residents asked to minimize social contact

CDPHE recommends that residents of Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, and anyone who has visited there in the past week, minimize their contact with other people. This includes those who are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. The recommendation is meant to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Park Meadows mall adjusts hours

Effective Monday, March 16, the shopping center will operate from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily, except Sunday, when it will close at 6 p.m. Individual retailers may change their hours or even close temporarily, so shoppers are urged to check online with each tenant for hours.

RELATED: Stores, restaurants reduce hours due to coronavirus

Colorado Natural Gas suspends disconnections

Colorado Natural Gas (CNG) will suspend service disconnections to any customers having difficulty paying their bill. The policy will remain in effect until April 30, at which time CNG will decide whether to extend the suspension. On Sunday, Xcel Energy also announced that it would not disconnect residential customers' electric or natural gas service until further notice.

RELATED: CORONAVIRUS BLOG: Denver to prohibit events with more than 50 people

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