Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Update: Polis declares COVID-19 state of emergency

Posted By and on Tue, Mar 10, 2020 at 12:53 PM

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Gov. Jared Polis has declared a state of emergency in Colorado to help the state "more effectively contain the spread of COVID-19 and avoid greater disruption."

With the declaration, the state will boost testing capacity for COVID-19 (also known as novel coronavirus), waive testing costs, launch drive-up labs for testing, and ensure paid leave for affected hospitality, food handling, child care, health care and education workers.

Polis said the state "will continue the pressure on the federal government ... to rapidly expand testing capacity and ensure the Colorado has enough tests that we can identify positive cases, isolate them, and notify others who may have been exposed."

COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family of viruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. Some coronaviruses lead to the common cold, while others — such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and COVID-19 — can lead to more serious symptoms in some people.

Coloradans should expect an increase in the number of positive cases in the days ahead, Polis said, as more people are tested.

"As of this morning, we've confirmed 15 positive cases in the state, and another indeterminate case that we're retreating as a positive," he said at a news conference the morning of March 10.

So far, one presumptive positive case has been counted in El Paso County. The patient, a man in his 40s, had recently traveled within the United States, according to CDPHE.

"We're going to get through this together, but the actions that we take in the next few days and weeks will really determine the trajectory of coronavirus in Colorado," Polis said.

"I've consulted extensively with public health officials and studied the response in other nations, what's worked and what hasn't worked — successful efforts to contain coronavirus like in Taiwan and failures like in Italy. And I'm basing our approach here in Colorado on what has been shown to work.

"Today, in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, to protect our most vulnerable populations, and to maximize our chances of avoiding widespread disruptions in the daily lives of Coloradans and our economy, I'm declaring a state of emergency here in Colorado."

Polis said the declaration gives the state access to resources and more legal flexibility to take immediate steps to protect Colorado's most vulnerable people and to better contain the outbreak, "truly reducing the chances of the trajectory that has occurred in countries like Italy, from occurring here in Colorado."

There'll be immediate action to protect public health, he said, with a focus on the most vulnerable populations — meaning people over 60, as well as those who are immunocompromised.

The expansion of testing capacity is a priority, Polis said, "so that eventually we can reach the point — the sooner the better — where anybody exhibiting flu-like symptoms can get tested.

"We need more testing because the sooner that we can identify positive cases and hotspots — regardless of the severity of the illness for any one individual — the more effectively we can isolate those who test positive and we can limit and slow the spread of the virus in Colorado."

Polis said the state currently has about 900 test kits, and is expecting many more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Last night I spoke one-on-one with Vice President Pence and in that conversation ... I stressed the need for exponentially more testing in Colorado," Polis said. "We really need to significantly increase our capacity and I made a direct appeal for more test kits to be released to Colorado."

Polis said CDC head Dr. Robert Redfield had committed to fulfill Colorado's request for 1,500 additional test kits this week.

"This test is a crucial tool in our efforts to slow the spread of the virus, and to ensure that those individuals who have tested positive and need to isolate have the support they need during this challenging time," Polis said. "The bottom line is this: The more people we test and the sooner we do it, the better chance we have for a successful containment."

Another priority is to cut financial obstacles to testing.

"We know that people are more likely to get tested if they know they won't be penalized
financially for exhibiting symptoms of the virus," Polis said. "That's why yesterday my Department of Insurance instructed insurers across the state to waive costs and fees associated with providing the test. That also applies to state employees."

Polis said one of his major goals as governor has been to create a system where health care costs are not a barrier to people getting the care that they need.

"Now that's always true, it's always important — but it's especially true when facing a public health crisis like coronavirus," he said. "We don't want red tape to get in the way of people getting the test, or the treatment that they need. That's why I'm proud to announce that starting tomorrow, the Department of Public Health and Environment will be opening a drive-up lab for testing at our facility in Lowry to test anyone who has a note from their doctor stating that they need testing."

More drive-up testing locations will be rolled out over the coming weeks.

Under the emergency authority, Polis has directed the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment ensure workers in food handling, hospitality, child care, health care and education, get paid sick leave to miss work if they're awaiting test results.

“If they exhibit flu-like symptoms and have to miss work awaiting their testing results for novel coronavirus, this step not only helps prevent the spread of the virus but also inspires confidence for both tourists and Coloradans that we are minimizing risks in our state — especially in professions that could potentially be significant vectors for contagion,” Polis said.

For workers who test positive and don’t have access to paid leave, the Department of Labor and Employment is identifying wage replacement support, such as access to employment insurance, “so that people [with a confirmed case of coronavirus] are able to make their rent and afford food, if they’re unable to earn any hourly wages.”

These are important steps for workers who test positive, Polis said, “because for those who work with vulnerable populations, for those who work in food services and hospitality, for those who work with older Coloradans, it's absolutely critical that they are able to take that sick leave if they are ill.

“When those workers lack access to paid sick leave, it poses a great risk to our ability to protect the public,” he said.

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, CDPHE urges Coloradans to:

- Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your children home if they are sick.
- Clean surfaces in your home, and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.

Helpful resources:

For the latest COVID-19 information from CDPHE, visit colorado.gov/cdphe/2019-novel-coronavirus.

For updated case totals, visit CDPHE's Fast Facts page.

If you have general questions about COVID-19, call the CO-HELP call line at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, for answers in many languages, or email COHELP@RMPDC.org for answers in English.

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